Havelock Parks and Recreation is growing. As efforts nationwide call for children to be more active, parents are turning to the soccer, football, baseball and other leagues that use space at the recreation facility off Fontana Boulevard.
While Director Dave Smith loves to see all the children staying active and learning values sports can provide, he’s got a problem. The recreation facility — bordered by a highway, neighborhood and industrial park — doesn’t have the room for all the leagues.
"We’re trying to put people in nooks and crannies," he said. "We’re putting folks wherever we can."
Solutions to the problem vary, cost money and are drawing opposition from some who don’t want to see increased traffic to a proposed new park on their rural road.
Havelock commissioners are expected to discuss the proposed recreation area on Lewis Farm Road near Carolina Pines during a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Havelock City Hall. There is no planned public comment period during the workshop-style meeting, but the board is expected to address the proposal.
The 47 acres off Lewis Farm Road would allow for more recreation fields, something Smith and officials from the various youth sports leagues in Havelock say is much needed.
However, the city would have to come up with about $75,000 as part of a $500,000 state grant to purchase the property and develop it.
There is also local opposition to the new park. Residents along Lewis Farm Road say increased traffic poses a danger for horses and their riders at nearby stables and trails, and could result in more traffic crashes at Carolina Pines and U.S. 70, a spot they say is already dangerous.
Two new pieces of property totaling about 15 acres off Greenfield Heights Boulevard have gotten the attention of the city, but that property comes with a higher price.
No matter the eventual outcome of the decision, officials with youth sports leagues in Havelock say more room is needed.
"We have between 300 and 400 kids just for soccer, so I don’t know how many football and lacrosse that those guys have, but that’s a lot of kids (and) it’s kind of hard to find the spots to play in," said Danny Verduzco, of the Havelock Youth Soccer Association.
He said the soccer league has matches and practices in the outfields of the softball and baseball fields, something he said is restricting
"It’s really hard to get a field to practice or to play on because we have restrictions on how we can set up the fields," he said. "There’s a lot of wear and tear on them. Because it’s the outfield, we can only put the fields in certain ways. We can’t rotate them to have less tear around the top of the boxes where the goalies stand."
He said the one field at the recreation facility that can be used for soccer is shared among football, lacrosse, soccer and rugby. He said teams also practice on the tennis courts because it has lights.
"As of right now we have about 150 kids that are not really practicing enough as we need them to because of the lack of fields," Verduzco said. "We try to practice on the weekends but that’s kind of limited. People have to go to church. There’s more time for the family and it’s kind of hard to work around that on the weekends."
Casi Walton, president of Havelock Youth Lacrosse Association, said the league’s players have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to playing fields.
"We’ve been around since ’04 and we have so many troubles trying to get field space," Walton said. "They finally allowed us to practice at Walter B. Jones Park but the field is horrible and every time the circus comes to town we get kicked off with no alternative. Last year we did get some alternative space but it was too small."
Walton said the league has grown from 25 to 30 players to about 150 with five boys teams and two girls teams practicing on just two fields.
"There’s no other place for us to go other than Walter B. Jones Park and then they did give us Sermons Park for the girls, but that is too small for regulation size," Walton said. "To have 30 to 40 girls out there practicing from ages 8 to 18, it gets pretty crazy out there sometimes."
Walton said spaces are so small that a full lacrosse field can’t be marked off, which hurts player development. She also said the fields don’t have lights, and that the portable lights that the recreation center has brought in aren’t enough.
"It’s a little dangerous to try and practice lacrosse in the dark with sticks and balls flying everywhere in the dark," she said.
A lack of lights is a concern for the soccer association as well.
"It would be great if we could have another complex where we could rotate fields around," Verduzco said.
Youth sports organizers said the leagues were important to help keep children out of trouble and on the right path.
"It gives them an avenue to expend their energy," Walton said. "It teaches them sportsmanship, teamwork and a sense of camaraderie for they feel a part of something so they’re not going to go out and find something to be a part of. I think that’s a big part. Having them an actual place to go to is beneficial."
Verduzco said the leagues give children structure.
"They look forward to it," he said. "It gives them something to look forward to and keeps their minds off of those terrible things that they could have done like drugs and crime and all that. It definitely benefits the kids. Any sport benefits them. Whatever sport they play I think is good for them."
Whether they agree or disagree with the need for recreation space, residents along Lewis Farm Road came out in strong opposition to the proposed park during a meeting last month.
Edward Lloyd, who owns Caballo Stables and lives on Lewis Farm Road, spearheaded the effort, pointing to increased traffic that would disrupt not only the way of life for residents but also the way of life for horses and his business. He said the park would hurt his business, as riders seek the solitude that the rural road and nearby horse trails provide.
He also said there could be increased vandalism and crime, and feared for drivers who would have to access U.S. 70 near Carolina Pines, a spot he said was already prone to vehicle crashes.
"It is quite apparent that there has not been a lot of thought given to the people or the businesses that existed before this park was conceived in my opinion, and there is negative and potentially dangerous situations that could arise from this project being placed in our quiet neighborhood," Lloyd told Havelock commissioners. "In summary, I would say, put the park somewhere else. Put it in your neighborhood."