After more than seven years at the helm of the Southwestern Youth Association (SYA), George Chernesky is stepping down.
In a May 15 letter to the SYA board and membership, he said that, when new officers are elected in September, he will not be running for president — or any other office.
"I'm tired, and I think it needs somebody a little younger and somebody with kids still in the program," he said. "But I want to thank all the moms and dads for participating because it means a whole lot to their kids and to the organization. I appreciate all they've done for all children in SYA."
SYA soccer commissioner Jeff Stein, who's known Chernesky since 1996, understands his decision completely. "It's a very difficult and time-consuming job, and he's done it for a long time," he said. "There's no pay and lots of hard work. But it's an important job that had to be done — dealing with the county and community. But he did it, and he did a great job."
Still, some were surprised. "I didn't know it was coming," said Jeff Saxe, helping oversee SYA's future "Fields of Dreams" youth sports complex, off Bull Run Post Office Road in Centreville. "Things were going fine, and I never stopped to think that George might have something else he'd actually like to do in his spare time."
SYA treasurer and former baseball commissioner Gary Flather called Chernesky a dedicated person who "looked out for the kids and truly believes youth sports are good for them. And he's provided stable leadership for so long — I think that's probably his biggest contribution. Most parents leave youth sports when their kids leave, but he didn't."
Agreeing, Saxe said Chernesky has really focused on trying to provide recreational opportunities for the children in the SYA area (mainly Centreville and Clifton). Said Saxe: "SYA will have to search long and hard to find somebody with his vision and drive and commitment to the children."
Chernesky headed the 16,000-child sports organization longer than anyone, and Stein said he also used his expertise to organize this huge group composed of many disparate entities. "He's helped foster a spirit of cooperation and got all the different sports to work together for the benefit of all the kids," said Stein.
He noted, as well, how hard Chernesky has toiled trying to find and build new fields and improve existing ones. "George brought SYA a long way," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "He really was the one who brought the attitude of self-help to SYA in finding fields and fill dirt and getting whatever contributions he could from the private sector."
And knowing how near and dear the "Fields of Dreams" project is to Chernesky's heart, Flather was surprised that SYA's leader "wasn't going to hang in there to see [it] through to completion." But, he added, "I'm sure he'll stay involved with it."
Actually, Flather said he was amazed that Chernesky stayed on as SYA president as long as he did because "It's such a big job. It's demanding on a person — all the volunteer hours and the number of meetings you have to go to each week. He'll definitely be missed."
He also liked that Chernesky told the commissioners to run their sports and he'd handle all the red tape. "He was very supportive of the soccer program," added Stein. "He built a framework within SYA that allowed this program to expand and thrive."
Soccer is 50 percent of SYA's enrollment and is also the largest girls' sport in SYA and in Fairfax County. Said Stein: "I have about 3,300 kids each season, fall and spring, and 1,681 girls played fall soccer."
Stein is chairing the nominating committee, and he says SYA is seeking someone "who'll continue to do the same good job George has done. I hate to see him go; he'll be hard to replace, but you can only do it for so long." However, Chernesky will still be around until the end of the year; the new officers won't begin their duties until Jan. 1.
"I think it's good for George, but it's going to leave a big hole in the organization," added Frey. As for the "Fields of Dreams," he said it was Chernesky's dream and vision and will take time to accomplish. "Whatever gets done will be a real plus for the organization and a first-class place for the kids. George's heart was in the right place."
With an organization as large as SYA, said Flather, "The best thing you can do is develop the sturdy legs that'll make the program continue. That's what George has built, and we have a strong program and strong leaders to carry it forward."