The crossfire over soccer fields in DC got heavier Wednesday and promises to intensify at a city council hearing scheduled for Thursday.
On Wednesday, Department of Parks and Recreation director Jesus Aguirre accused Stoddert Soccer board chairman Nick Keenan of spreading information that is “inaccurate and misleading.” In a letter to Keenan, Aguirre also said he had been “disingenuous” to allege that private schools were conspiring to grab field time from Stoddert, a citywide league run by volunteers. Keenan had written a e-mail to Stoddert members insisting that the city had blindsided Stoddert by suddenly denying requests for fields; Aguirre said his staff had communicated “almost daily” with Stoddert.
“That’s a lie,” Keenan told The Washingtonian on Wednesday. “We had one meeting in June, and the city gave us no indication of any changes. We discussed nitty gritty stuff like parking. What we got in August was that there were no times before 6 PM on all the Northwest fields we use. The sun sets around then. The fields are not really usable. It’s garbage time.”
The fight over field time is a ritual every fall, when independent soccer leagues contend with public and private schools for precious green space, for both games and practice.
“The landscape has changed from ten years ago,” says Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. He’s also been a soccer dad and a PTA member. “There’s been an explosion in field use. People have to share. That’s the new reality.”
Keenan, who runs a league with 5,800 players, accused the city of waiting until late August to deny field permits for weekday practices.
“Increasingly,” he wrote, “the allocation of field space by the DC government has come to be dominated by political considerations. While Stoddert is large and healthy, it is not viewed as politically important.”
He added, “When we go head to head with other organizations—private schools mostly—we lose. We need to become more politically active.”
That might be easier on a national level. Media and political heavyweights such as NBC’s Davie Gregory, among many others, show up to root for their children.
But in local matters, Stoddert will have to show its muscle at the Wilson Building, starting at Thursday’s council hearing.
“I’ll be giving testimony tomorrow,” says Keenan. He expects a number of parents to testify, as well.
They will have to contend with DPR’s Aguirre, whose letter offered a detailed response to Keenan’s complaints. He wrote that Stoddert received “the majority of permitted time on most of the fields you are using, and in some cases up to 100 percent of the permitted time outside of the school day.”
But most of that time, according to Keenan, is “garbage.”
The text of Keenan’s e-mail is below.
Permit Denied. Permit Denied.
One after another, the automated notices arrived by email at the Stoddert office: Palisades: Permit Denied. Hardy: Permit Denied. Hearst too. And Fort Stevens, Carter Barron, Stoddert, Fort Reno as well. It was August 18, opening day of the fall season was 18 days away, and we were busy getting the season organized for our 5,800 fall players when we received the first indication that something was seriously wrong. The fields players depend on - the fields convenient to the players and families, the fields Stoddert Soccer players have used for decades - were being systematically shut out on weekday afternoons. It must be a mistake, we thought, but when we contacted the Department of Parks and Recreation we were told that, no, it’s not a mistake. It’s policy. We appealed to the DPR Director, then to the mayor’s office, but nothing changed. We got council members Tommy Wells, who chairs the committee that oversees DPR, and Mary Cheh, whose ward contains many of our fields and more than 2,500 of our players, to go to bat for us. After intense wrangling we managed to claw back a little bit of time - one hour a week at Stoddert, a little at Palisades and Carter Barron, some time at Hardy and Hearst - but nothing near what we have had in past years, and nothing near what we need to run soccer programs for your children.
We decided that we would not cut our programs, but that we would do the best we could with what we have. It’s a tribute to our 700 volunteers that we managed to schedule all of our weekday programs in about three days. But the forecast for the fall season is crowded, dark and inconvenient. This fall 70% of our practices and other weekday programs will take place after 5:30pm, and 50% after 6:00. The sun will set at 7:00 on September 25 and 6:30 on October 14, so for most of our programs it w ill be only a few weeks before they are curtailed by darkness. The field space we do have we are using more intensively, practices are shorter and more crowded. And we are using fields that are further away, resulting in long drives for our players and their families.
What can you do?
Increasingly, the allocation of field space by the DC government has come to be dominated by political considerations. While Stoddert is large and healthy, it is not viewed as politically important. We have devoted our energies to putting on the best soccer programs we can, rather than to raising our political profile. When we go head-to-head for field time with other organizations - private schools, mostly - we lose. We need to become more politically active.
This Thursday, September 20, the DC Council committee with oversight over Parks and Recreation will hold a hearing about the permitting process. I will be testifying as a representative of Stoddert Soccer. The hearing is open to the public and individuals are invited to testify. In-person testimony is incredibly powerful, and I encourage all Stoddert members to come say a few words about how the lack of field space affects their family. In order to testify you need to register with Tawanna Shuford at 724-8204 or tshuford @dccouncil.us by Monday, September 17 at 5pm. I realize that appearing in person may not be convenient for many people, so it is also possible to submit written testimony via email . Written testimony can be sent to Tawanna Shuford at firstname.lastname@example.org as well and needs to be submitted by Monday, September 24.
CLICK HERE for full details of the hearing, or paste this URL into your browser:
If you have the opportunity, please thank Councilmembers Wells and Cheh. They have been supportive and helpful, and it is important that they realize that their support is appreciated. Contact information for them is available here: http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/council .
Finally, we are continuing our efforts to acquire weekday space that is convenient to our members, and to match field time with teams. On our website we have the latest information about what space is available, and instructions for signing up your team. As more field time becomes available the website will be updated. For details, visit our fields page at: http://www.stoddert.com/Fields/index_E.html
In the long run, we realize that increasing the overall supply of field facilities is more productive than fighting other users over how it is divided. We are pursuing a number of initiatives to increase the capacity of public facilities through the installation of lights and artificial turf, and also to broaden the availability of private facilities. We will be in contact as those efforts progress.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. I always have time to talk with fellow parents about soccer related issues.
Chairman of the Board, DC Stoddert Soccer