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Neighbors Object to Teens on PCC Rink

<sh>Inline hockey leagues seek time for teens on Potomac’s rink.

While teenagers hope to find a home for roller hockey, adults continue to hand off the puck.

Neighbors opposed to the idea of teenagers using the Potomac Community Center rink and parents and coaches in favor of such access shoot for opposing goals.

On March 18, the Potomac Community Center's Advisory Board proposed that the Planning Board lift restrictions to allow teenagers through the 12th grade use of the PCC rink. Currently, the rink is limited to those 12 years old and under.

"We feel this extension is well justified in light of the closure of the Wheaton facility, which was the only place available for older children to practice and compete," wrote Larry Chloupek, chair of the Advisory Board.

This past fall, the Wheaton Rink held leagues for youth teams 12-under, 13-under, 14-under and 16-under while the Potomac Community Center had leagues for youth teams 8-under and 10-under, although 12-under teams could practice at the center.

FOR SOME NEIGHBORS, however, the issue — and the bad blood resulting from it — reverts back to the time the rink was built four years ago.

"This was built illegally and the neighborhood never had the opportunity to object. We went to a hearing at the Planning Board and restrictions were put in place, but [the rink] wasn't properly approved before constructed," said Jim Krzyminski. "It is unfair to the neighbors to come back now in view of the closure at the other rink and insist that this takes place. The county should look to alternative sites."

And just as hockey teammates come to each other's defense while protecting their goal, Krzyminski's neighbors plan to do the same.

"The community here is solid. We're cohesive and all for the one or two that are being the most hurt," said Edward Locke. "We'll all come to his defense."

THE RINK WAS BUILT without county funds, without approval from the Planning Board, and without notifying the neighbors. Some neighbors were outraged, and voiced concerns over the noise level of the pucks and sticks and players, sometimes foul language from older players, trash left outside and soil erosion and runoff from the rink.

The rink was closed as the Planning Board considered the situation, reopening with age and hour restrictions.

But neighbors say they still have similar concerns.

PREPARING FOR a faceoff, however, are the hundreds of hockey players in Montgomery County, their parents and coaches, who don't have any place to play.

"You give a boy a stick, a helmet, uniform and wheels, he's in heaven," said Doug Stevens, a Potomac resident and coach of multiple roller hockey teams. Stevens, who has children young enough to play on teams at the PCC rink, and old enough not to be allowed to play there, originally petitioned the Planning Board. He challenged the age restrictions at the Potomac Community Center rink as age discrimination, and asked that age restrictions be lifted.

"Think what would happen if in the basketball world, the county said, 'Guess what? No gyms this year.' The emotion you can imagine your kid will feel is exactly the same as being told that there is no place to play," said Stevens.

County executive Doug Duncan officiated during the growing debate.

"THE CURRENT LIMITS on times and types of activities scheduled at the Potomac rink were conditions for development of the rink. [Park and Planning] held public hearings and received considerable community input during this process, resulting in the establishment of the current guidelines for operating the rink," wrote Duncan, in a letter to Stevens on Jan. 28, 2002. "To effect a change to the existing operating schedule or program requires a similar effort to ensure opportunities for the community to express their views on the impact of such change."

Louise and Edward Locke intend to be heard.

"When we purchased our homes in the 1970s, it was an elementary school. Nobody thought this could pop up overnight," said Louise Locke. "We thought this had been resolved years ago. Why is somebody bringing this up all again?"

Perhaps because statistics show the growing number of youth dedicated to the sport.

In the fall, approximately 250 teenagers played at the Wheaton rink, said Andy Fish, league director.

"A LOT OF KIDS have taken pride and invested in this," said Stevens.

In the fall, there were 21 teams with approximately 12 players each competing in Wheaton, which was reserved for older players.

At the Potomac rink, five teams of youth 8-under and 10 teams of youth 10-under practiced and competed.

"We had 21 teams in the fall, now we have four teams. We had 250 players in the fall, now we [can only] have 50," said Fish. "Hopefully the rink will be back in the fall, but it is doubtful that it will be ready then."

Krzyminski said that instead of all efforts being focused on the Potomac rink, the county should be looking at alternative sites.

The Advisory Board is recommending only a change in the age limit of players, not in hours, said Chloupek.

"We are in favor of additional rinks. We made it clear though as an advisory group, we are strongly endorsing an increase in age of roller-hockey participation," said Chloupek.

And, currently, only the Potomac Community Center rink exists.

THE PLANNING BOARD consulted with the Department of Recreation, deciding that the Western Area Recreation Advisory Board will hold a public information meeting on the issue. The meeting will probably be scheduled for May, according to a memo to PCC director Linda Barlock from Jeffrey Bourne, Division chief with the Department of Recreation.