JOE PARKS LOVES plying the open water of the Chesapeake Bay.
If he didn't have to report for work with the state's Division of Parole and Probation -- where he manages the cases of offenders who are trying (with varying degrees of success) to stay out of prison -- he would spend most of the year with the gulls and the buoys on the bay.
His wife, Betty, shares his enthusiasm.
Both are active members of the Patapsco River Squadron, the local branch of the United States Power Squadrons, a national nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to education and safety for boat owners. Parks holds the rank of lieutenant commander.
His particular interest is celestial navigation. The skill is so much a part of him that when he looks at the stars, Parks sees more than a random collection of twinkling lights. He sees a map that will guide him home.
The Parkses can be found nearly every weekend working side-by-side on the chores that boat owners do to keep things shipshape before casting off for a day trip or participating in one of the summer skills trials held by the squadron.
Helping novice sailors learn to become good seamen is part of the commander's avocation.
During the winter, when the boat and its gear are stowed, Joe Parks teaches free evening classes sponsored by the power squadrons to prepare new captains for operating boats, possibly for the first time, on their own.
Parks teaches navigation, seamanship, engine and hull maintenance, charts, rules of the road, knot tying and line handling.
Beginning Feb. 10, he will be conducting a free class at Long Reach High School.
The class, which meets for six Wednesday evenings, exceeds the educational requirements for boating in all states. Graduates will be qualified to receive the Maryland Department of Natural Resources certificate required to operate all types of boats and personal watercraft.
A nominal materials fee is charged. Information: Parks at 410-766-8272.
The Patapsco River Squadron, which serves Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, is interested in new members.
Soccer in Columbia
Ground zero for soccer would seem to be here in Columbia.
On weekends, in season, every available playing field is overrun with teams and coaches, parents, siblings and spectators.
Nearby streets are accustomed to the cheerful din of urgent voices that enliven the stillness of suburban streets, adding a flavor to the landscape.
The sport is so big here that last year the Soccer Association of Columbia offered to ante up $1 million in a proposal to carve new soccer fields from the old Smith Farm in Oakland Mills.
It is fitting that the same game -- played on a higher order -- is coming to our town.
East side neighbors A. J. Ali, Darryl Gee and Rodney Harris are bringing the new professional A-league Maryland Mania to an arena near you.
The level of play in "A" league soccer is just below the majors.
A-league teams are home to rising stars who often go on to compete internationally.
Gee, who was a standout Oakland Mills High School player, Class of 1980, is head coach for the Mania.
After graduation from high school, Gee was drafted by the New York Cosmos.
Gee, who lives in Montgomery County, enjoyed a 12-year playing career that included a 1990 championship season with the Maryland Bays in the American Professional Soccer League.
Gee was recruited to coach the team through his long soccer-playing friendship with team president Ali and his abiding interest in bringing a professional team to his hometown.
Ali is a resident of Long Reach.
Rodney Harris is another "eastie" with the Maryland Mania. He lives in Owen Brown.
Though it has been said that his personal taste runs to American football, that doesn't hurt him in his role as the club's vice president.
Harris' passion for soccer shows in his presentations to youth leagues, when he gives talks as part of the Mania outreach program to encourage teamwork and fair play among young people.
Ali played high school soccer before joining the Air Force soccer team.
For a while, after his tour of duty, Ali stayed in Sicily playing for the town of Comiso in Ragusa Province.
Ali loved the action on the field, but he recognized that his contribution to the sport would be in bringing new fans to the game.
Now he has a busy corner office, where he happily shows off a historic guidebook. The book, which James Rouse used to illustrate his vision for the future Columbia, sports a cover photo of an architectural model for the new town.
Tucked neatly into a corner of the shot is a stadium of sufficient size to accommodate a sport of soccerlike dimensions where Symphony Woods now stands.
Although the space is taken, Ali says a short list of other Columbia sites is under consideration.
The club's fund-raising efforts are bringing the dream within reach.
In the meantime, the team will play home games a short distance away at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's field in Catonsville.
Bryan Hughes, 14, an eighth-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School who has played on the soccer association's United Classic team for three years, looks forward to the day when Maryland Mania is based closer to home.
"It'll be great," he said. "I don't get much of a chance to watch and learn from the pros unless I go to a D.C. United game, and I can't do that much."
Bryan's brother, Eric, 11, a member of the association's United Premier team, agrees.
"It'll probably be very exciting," he said.
Ali is honest about soccer players' salary packages.
"It's going to be a long, long time before you see soccer players making a million dollars," he said. "These guys are working-class professionals; they do it for the love of the sport."
Maryland Mania's first game of the season will be played in Raleigh, N.C., against the Raleigh Flyers. The home opener is May 9, when the Mania will play the Charleston, S.C., Battery at UMBC.
Long Reach High School Principal David A. Bruzga reminds parents and guardians that the PTSA back-to-school night for the second term is at 7: 30 tonight.
Remember to bring a copy of your child's schedule.
Pub Date: 2/02/99