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Columbia Invitational, despite Fort Meade games, isn't moving Director says event still belongs to Howard


Louise Waxler, director of the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament, wants to make it clear that the prestigious event is not leaving Howard County.

The tournament, one of the county's top sporting events, attracts 225 teams from 16 states and Canada on Memorial Day weekend. It is sponsored by the Soccer Association of Columbia, an organization that boasts of 3,800 participants.

Waxler said the tournament will have a new look this year because nearly half of the games will be played on the parade grounds at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

But Howard County hotels and restaurants still will be filled with nTC soccer players Memorial Day weekend.

She denies a published report that a rift between the Howard County Recreation and Parks Department and the Soccer Association of Columbia over field user fees and field quality has driven the tournament from Howard County.

"A Washington Post story may have left the impression that we moved the tournament because there is some sort of battle going on between the county and SAC," said Waxler. "But that's not true.

"The name of the tournament will never change, and the majority of the games still will be played in Howard County."

Waxler said the move to Fort Meade was a chance to improve the tournament in a way that couldn't be done if all of the games remained in Howard County.

For the first time in its 18-year history, the tournament will not play games on county Recreation Department fields.

"We've been trying to reduce the number of field sites," said Waxler. "And this move streamlines the tournament from about 12 sites down to six.

"And we're also trying to eliminate the use of county Rec Department fields because they are not in good shape and we have to pay a fee to use them that we feel is too high. We understand the government's trying to cope with a recession and has cut back on field maintenance, but we just can't afford to pay for poor fields."

The tournament has cut back its use of Recreation Department fields since the user fees were instituted in 1990.

"That first year they waived the fees for us because they were instituted too late for us to budget for them," Waxler said.

Last year, the tournament used seven Recreation Department fields -- down from 11 in 1991.

Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of the Recreation and Parks Department, denies that the department's fees are pushing the tournament out of Howard County. Bourne says the fees don't cover the department's costs.

Waxler and Bourne disagreed over what those charges are. Waxler said the Recreation Department charges a $15 tournament fee per team and a $10 user fee per team per game. Bourne said SAC is not charged the $15 tournament fee per team.

"We donate a lot of staff time toward the tournament, and we will save that cost," Bourne said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying, yippee, they won't be here, but it will be a savings for us."

In addition to Fort Meade, tournament sites for this year are Wilde Lake High School, Oakland Mills High School, Harper's Choice Middle School, Centennial High School and Howard Community College.

The tournament does not have to pay a user fee for any of those fields.

Sites not used this year include Recreation Department fields at Glenwood Park, Cedar Lane Park and Centennial Park. The tournament also won't use UMBC as a field site. Waxler said the tournament paid $2,800 to UMBC last year.

"I hope this is not a one-time deal at Fort Meade," Waxler said. "We'd like to be invited back, and our goal is to leave that base without a scrap of trash."

Waxler said that SAC would like to buy land and build a field complex in Howard County, and profits from the tournament are being saved toward that goal.

"Several other major tournaments around the country also use military bases," Waxler said. "We needed quality fields so we could make this a memorable event. How long can we survive on our reputation if we don't have quality fields?"

Waxler wrote a proposal last fall that convinced Fort Meade officials to allow the tournament to turn the parade grounds into nine soccer fields that she feels will greatly enhance the tournament's national reputation.

"The atmosphere is overwhelming," she said. "All grass, beautiful fields with bleachers and plenty of parking is a setting every tournament would like to have."

All of the finals will be at that site, which includes a large gazebo that will serve as tournament headquarters.

"We're the first non-military group that they've ever allowed to use the base," Waxler said. "Teams are coming from 16 states and Canada, and Fort Meade sees it as a good public relations opportunity."

Less than a mile from there are five other soccer fields, and the combination will allow 108 of the 225 teams to play at a central location.

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