A proposal in the works for nine months would allow limited use of a Fairfax County-owned soccer field at Lewinsville Park by teams from Marymount University in Arlington, which would provide synthetic turf to make the surface playable year-round, according to officials of McLean Youth Incorporated (MYI).
The deal has been under discussion since last September in meetings among Marymount, Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) staff, Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, and MYI, the umbrella organization for McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) and all other youth team sports except Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball.
“The whole of MYI is behind this initiative,” said MYI President Forrest Horton. “It will be a quantum jump forward in field availability around the calendar.”
“Stu’s office has come in strong behind us on this. This is a wonderful opportunity,” he said.
"This is an opportunity for MYI to develop a synthetic turf to improve their program,” said Rick Thoesen of Herndon, Dranesville District’s representative to the Fairfax County Park Authority.
“The use of synthetic turf may become more and more feasible due to the high land and maintenance costs associated with our athletic fields. We could gain a lot of experience from this project,” Thoesen said.
“In order to optimize use of this expensive application, serious consideration of lighting is important. We are asking for community input and will listen to the neighboring community before we commit. Certainly, we hope that all objectives can be accommodated,” he said.
Adrienne Whyte, chairman of planning and zoning for the McLean Citizens Association (MCA), said the MCA received a notice about a June 27 FCPA hearing on lighting the field, but first learned of the synthetic turf proposal on June 7, 20 days before the public hearing.
“I don’t have enough information to have an informed opinion,” she said Tuesday.
The MCA last met on June 5, and won’t meet again before the Park Authority’s June 27 hearing. An MCA committee on the environment, parks and recreation will discuss field lighting when it meets on Wednesday, June 19, said committee chair Frank Crandall.
ONE RECTANGULAR FIELD at Lewinsville Park that is used for soccer already has lights. FCPA’s master plan for the park, approved in February, 1977. requires a public hearing before lights are installed at the other two fields, one rectangular and one diamond-shaped.
From a percentage of the fees it collects from about 3,500 children between the ages of five and 19 who participate in MYI sports, the soccer organization maintains every public field in parks and at schools in the McLean community, Horton said.
“It is probably the best-kept secret in McLean,” Horton said. “We have currently adopted all of the rectangular fields.
“We maintain them and made improvements, and have spent more than $1 million in the last five years,” he said.
“We have done that because the county has not had the resources.
Neither the schools nor the parks are able to keep up [field] maintenance,” he said.
As the umbrella organization for youth sports from cheer leading to rugby, MYI sponsors several sports that use rectangular fields: soccer, rugby, football, field hockey and lacrosse.
The largest MYI programs are soccer and basketball, Horton said, and the group is always seeking new places to play.
“WE HAVE GONE for years using the sloped area at Franklin Sherman Elementary School and every green piece we can get,” Horton said.
A new field, created from citizens’ negotiations with a developer, is also nearing completion at the intersection of Spring Hill Road and Lewinsville Road. It too will be maintained by MYS.
On the north side of Lewinsville Road, at Spring Hill Recreation Center, there are three small soccer fields, one baseball diamond, and two regulation sized fields, all on park property.
“Creative maintenance,” sharing fields, and rotating seasons allows most fields, either at parks or at schools, to be in use most of the year,” Horton said.
“We must preserve the diversity of sports, and make sure we have the diversity of sports to carry kids through from 8 to 18. We are carrying the 99 percenters,” he said. “Only about one percent [of young people] play varsity sports at their schools.”
“We are trying to provide sports for the 99 percenters who don’t play varsity and AAU sports,” Horton said.
“The need is obviously acute for more school-aged children to use fields in the community.”
IF THE PROPOSAL with Marymount University works out, “it will help solve field crowding, and hopefully, the county and the citizens will be supportive,” said Ted Kinghorn, chair of MYS.
Much depends on a public hearing scheduled by FCPA at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27, at Spring Hill Elementary School. Citizens will be able to comment on the proposal to use lights, he said.
“To maximize the investment, it is necessary to have lights so we get better usage,” he said.
Lights are included in FCPA’s master plan for Lewinsville Park. One rectangular field there already has lights, Kinghorn said. But the master plan requires a public hearing before lights can be installed on the other two fields, one of them a baseball diamond.
“It is timely to do that in conjunction with our plans for [an] artificial surface,” he said. “We support the county going out for public comment on lights for the field.”
The cost of adding synthetic turf to a field at Lewinsville Park will probably exceed $500,000, said Kinghorn. But it would return the equivalent of 2.5 more fields in additional playing time, he said.
The surface has slits that permit drainage into a sand bed beneath, making it playable even in the rain and avoiding the issue of creating new “impervious surface.”
“Marymount would get some usage in non-youth rec hours, largely during the day, and limited to their two seasons, in spring and fall,” he said. “The community would have unlimited access when the fields are available.”
PARTICIPATION IN MYS is increasing at the rate of about 15 percent a season. “It is the [result of] the growth of McLean, the infill developments, and the popularity of soccer,” he said.
“More than 50 percent of kids that play youth sports play soccer, compared to all other sports combined” he said.
“We have an obligation, and are pleased to provide the [financial] resources.
“Where it becomes a little bit inequitable is that we are the only ones doing it,” he said.
“People take for granted what is coming out of registration
dollars for 8, 9 and 11 year old kids,” Kinghorn said.
“It is slightly unfair that a large percentage of our registration dollars must go for field maintenance.
“It is a greater public good that we are providing for all the citizens of McLean.
“Anyone can go out and play Frisbee, walk a dog, play golf, and they do,” he said.
“We are increasingly looking for non-registration dollars through donations from foundations, corporations and individuals,” he said.
MYI already has 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit, and MYS will seek that status soon, he said.