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Field crunch leaves kids on outside

Michael Traum

One hundred kids, or more, might not be able to play AYSO soccer in South Lake Tahoe this fall.

It’s not because the young athletes can’t find shoes, their parents aren’t willing to pay the participation fees, or an epidemic of shin splints looms.

No, the sport that is skyrocketing in popularity, becoming what some say is the most popular among American youths, let alone the world, is faced with a more pressing dilemma.

Amid the mind-numbing array of why, who, when and dollar amounts, the simple fact is there isn’t enough field space to accommodate soccer on the South Shore, according to many people involved in local youth sports.

“We’ve got about 1,150 kids registered right now. That’s about how many we can handle,” said Randy Volkmar, assistant commissioner for Region 282 – a wide area that includes South Lake Tahoe. “Right now we don’t have a waiting list. But we had one last year and we’ll start to get phone calls. Last year, my phone rang 10 to 20 times a night. It’s coming, there’s no doubt.”

Local AYSO fall programs begin within the next few weeks, with registration having long since been filled.

Volkmar estimated that as many as 100 kids were put on a waiting list last year, including many 15- and 16-year-olds who didn’t make it on the high school team but wanted to continue playing.

Scott Douglas, last year’s registration coordinator, said the number was closer to 40 to 50. But he was quick to point out that the “problem” won’t go away – it’ll only get worse.

“Last year, the response to registration was overwhelming. The parents seemed to understand,” Douglas said. “But there is always a fear (that there won’t be enough field space). It doesn’t matter what year it is. Youth soccer is here to stay. And it’s only going to grow.”

Adding to this year’s burden is that the grass at South Tahoe Middle School – one of six fields used by AYSO – is being resodded. Volkmar said the season could be delayed at least one month.

“We set the number of teams based on the number of fields we have. What if, next year, 1,400 kids want to register? The rest go on a waiting list, which is basically saying you don’t get to play soccer,” Volkmar said. “What we’re ultimately after is sparking interest in the community. Maybe it’ll get the higher powers interested. We need to find some space to build more fields.”

Those pleas, underscored more than ever by the bulging interest in soccer, are not falling on deaf ears. City and county officials, while dealing with the fallout of the discarded Golden Bear Park idea, are rallying support for a new park location. The group most recently met last Wednesday, and narrowed its site selection to five areas. While the details, namely funding and land usage, still need to be ironed out, it’s a solid step toward providing more recreational space.

“It’s a simple fact. The (South Shore) population has undergone a shift from a transient community to a more family-oriented population. We’ve completely metamorphosed. Consequently, we don’t have the recreational facilities to handle the demographics we have,” said Dan McLaughlin, vice chairman of the city’s Recreation Commission. “Compounding the fact, soccer’s popularity has exploded. It’s now the No. 1 youth sports game in town. There is a consensus across the board that we need new facilities. I think that it’s going to happen.”

The crisis is heightened by the demand placed upon the fields by adult soccer leagues, youth baseball, youth football/cheerleading, adult softball and high school sports – the last of which has priority over the latter during the school year.

Tales of soccer and football players colliding during practice, or baseball players finding foot-deep ruts near where soccer goals once stood, are quite common.

“We’ve had as many as six teams trying to practice on a field at the same time, not to mention the games,” Volkmar said. “People are always asking if I know of any patches of grass they can practice on. Even golf courses have been mentioned.”

Those with a vested interest in local youth sports agree that the best way to resolve the issue of secured field usage is to work together, rather than creating an “us vs. them” mentality, which is often manifested between baseball and soccer factions.

“The maintenance of soccer fields is a heavier burden than any other sport. And it’s just not a good thing to have soccer played on a baseball field – just by the nature of the sport. And it would be beneficial to give these fields a day off every once in a while,” McLaughlin said. “But traditionally, we don’t want to get into a battle of one sport vs. another when it comes to facilities. Right now, we don’t have enough places for any of them to play.

“There’s not a single person I’ve met that doesn’t think something needs to be done. The only thing that will hurt us is the lack of truth. The only question now is how.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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