School board should ask questions about field funds


SORRY ABOUT that, not being where you might have expected us, on Page 3 of the Howard section this past Sunday.

Anyway ...

Now that we're to be a Wednesday feature as we begin our sixth year, here's the skinny about this column:

We're about amateur sports, very liberally defined, in Howard County. We write about youth leagues, adult leagues, athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, facilities, issues and, sometimes, the politics of making all this work.

This column first appeared March 5, 2000, and since then, we've written (or had pieces written) about Howard County residents involved in 70 kinds of competition. That counts all the obvious ones, plus some unexpected ones, such as skeleton, pinball, darts, badminton, bowling and even contract bridge.

We look constantly for interesting competitors by any definition. We've written, for example, about a national age-group mountain-biking champ, ultra-marathoners who think running nonstop for 24 hours is their kind of challenge and a one-legged youth soccer player.

Sometimes the column's about one person or topic; some days, like today, it's a catchall:

MEMO TO THE SCHOOL BOARD: You're still mulling over how to raise money to maintain public school ball fields better to benefit numerous and sizable youth sports groups that rely on them. You want to pass some of the expense along to them.

Please, though, ask questions about this subject with specificity. Don't, as you did recently in a public session, simply accept from school administrators the gross figure they say they spend on or would allot to mowing, seeding, fixing eroded fields, etc. Ask for how much they need to maintain elementary and middle school fields - as well as high school fields.

We keep hearing that most, if not all, of what money has been allocated to maintenance in recent years has gone to high school fields.

SOCCER: While the 6,000-player Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County screens candidates to succeed Bill Stara as coaching director, some background chatter has been occurring over the club's competitive future.

John Bagrosky of Columbia, a SAC-HC travel team coach for 11 years in the 1980s and 1990s, is one of those courageous enough to be quoted.

"I would suggest that instead of looking and moving forward, [SAC-HC] considers going backward - about 10 to 15 years," said Bagrosky, whose teams won eight Maryland State Cups. "It's great to see such a big soccer bureaucracy in place, and it's great to see well-paid coaching directors and a slew of licensed and paid coaches on board - and those wonderful new fields.

"Now all that is missing is a high-level traveling team program, the kind we had 10 to 15 years ago. Many may be happy today when SAC-HC has a single State Cup champion in any given year. But I miss the days when we were disappointed when we only had five or six cup winners.

"I miss the days of seeing the SAC-HC travel teams as the premier travel teams in Maryland and some of the strongest on the East Coast, if not the entire country. I miss the days when the elite players from around the state, as well as from other states, would travel to Howard County to play on a SAC-HC team - especially since so many of our best players are now heading in the opposite direction, to play for other clubs."

POLITICAL FYI: This item has only the slimmest of Howard County angles, but anyone interested in youth sports ought to be aware of a position the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, which obviously has an interest in promoting sports, is pushing.

This trade group says it's taking "a strong stance against President Bush's budget proposal for fiscal year 2006," which, it says, calls for reduced funding for key physical education and recreation initiatives.

That includes phasing out the Carol M. White Physical Education for Progress (PEP) program and support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The PEP program sends money directly to schools for sports and fitness equipment - Howard County schools bought heart-rate monitors two years ago with one of those grants. And the conservation program goes for local parks and fields.

Association President Tom Cove has it right, saying: "It is almost inconceivable, during a time of intense public awareness of obesity and physical inactivity, for our government to turn away from two ... programs which promote healthy lifestyles through physical activity."

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