This spring, nearly 4,000 young men and women will take to the soccer fields in McLean. For many, it's a welcome sight, considering the number of electronic and other indoor distractions facing today's youth.
But these young soccer players do not have enough fields to play on, according to Rich Maresco and Bill Gray, who sit on the board of McLean Youth Soccer (MYS).
Maresco and Gray, the former and current directors of the soccer organization's Field Development Initiative, have identified one possible solution in adding more synthetic turf fields. Turf is safer, easier to maintain, and can withstand more foot traffic, they said.
Both Langley and McLean high schools have been working toward replacing their grass fields with synthetic turf. McLean Youth Soccer tried without success to strike a deal with one or both schools, exchanging funding assistance for field time.
Langley High School is planning to replace its stadium field with synthetic turf possibly as soon as the spring sports season concludes. Fairfax County has set a May 15 deadline for the two schools to have funding in place in order to move ahead with turfing this spring or summer. Langley High School, like McLean, is optimistic it will have funding by then.
Fairfax County Public Schools does not pay for turf fields, so funds must be raised separately.
The Langley High School Boosters have been running a vigorous fundraising campaign, holding special events to raise money. In late March, the group held a silent auction at River Bend Country Club to raise money for the field. More than 200 people attended. Geoff Noto, Langley High School's director of student activities, was pleased with the turnout, though the amount of money raised has not been released.
Maresco and Gray, with McLean Youth Soccer, met with Langley officials about 18 months ago hoping to reach some sort of field-sharing agreement with the school. MYS was willing to make a sizable contribution toward the project, but with just one field available to the school for practice and games, there wasn't enough field time to reach an agreement.
"Based on the number of teams we have, we pretty much will be using that field Monday through Friday until 9 or 10 at night between games and practices," Noto said. "And then Saturday, with practices, the field would just be open on Sundays."
Since it will not be receiving funding from any outside athletic programs, Langley High School officials hope to find a corporate donor to help meet their funding needs. "There are corporate opportunities available," Noto said. "They could name the field. They could name the press box." The high school also recently installed a new electronic scoreboard that allows corporate advertising.
MYS also tried to reach a field-sharing agreement with McLean High School. "(McLean High School's) biggest hurdle was financing," Gray said. "McLean High School has all these rectangle sports, and really only one field to practice on. So they're having to use some of the fields that we have access to."
McLean Youth Soccer put together a proposal that would have their organization contribute about $2.2 million to turf the McLean High School field, plus two fields that both the youth league and the high school use for practice at Lewinsville Park. This would give the high school access to three turf fields for practice and games. The school would put up $300,000 and the county Board of Supervisors had agreed to contribute $100,000 to the project.
About a year ago, community meetings to discuss the proposal drew up to 100 people. But negotiations were unsuccessful and the proposal fell through.
McLean High School is now pursuing its own plan to replace its stadium field with synthetic turf. The goal, according to Jim Patrick, the high school's director of student activities, is to start installation this summer. The project is being funded through a partnership with the McLean High School Athletic Booster Club, McLean Youth Lacrosse and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"We're very, very close," Patrick said. "...We are taking a loan out for a piece of it and we have some money to put down. But we're close to where we want to be. We'd like to raise more money so we're not putting money down out of reserves."
According to Brenda Bonk, McLean High School Athletic Booster Club president, the total cost to turf the field is $750,000. McLean Youth Lacrosse is contributing $100,000; the Board of Supervisors, $200,000. That leaves $450,000 for the boosters to raise. A portion of that will be financed through a loan, but Bonk said they are also hoping to find a corporate donor.
McLean Youth Soccer has been frustrated with what they see as a frequent problem of contractors working at schools using the fields as a staging area for their equipment. The youth league feels the county is not taking the lack of field space seriously.
"Fairfax County Public Schools... does that planning, but I know they're sensitive to that issue," said John Foust, the county supervisor for the Dranesville District. "I am very sympathetic. We've got rapidly growing youth sports programs. Not just soccer. And we need more field capacity. We're working on delivering it. We picked up four new turf fields in McLean — three at Spring Hill, one at Linway." Foust said that although the county has not gained any new fields, it has gained capacity by using synthetic turf, which allows for play at night or in inclement weather.
A little more than 25 percent of McLean's nearly 50,000 residents are children 18 or younger. About 17 percent of residents are 65 or older. Slightly more than a third of McLean households have children 18 or younger, according to the 2010 census.
McLean Youth Soccer is continuing to search for ways to find additional field space for its players.
The youth league's soccer teams already have to double-up on practice fields, and now they are faced with having to schedule three or even four teams on one field at a time, Gray said.
"It is more than what the fields were designed for," he said. Maresco pointed out that some of the older teams are electing to instead rent a practice field in Herndon late at night during the week.
"There are 16-year-olds that were brand new drivers; there are quite a few nights where these kids are coming down the toll road to the beltway at 11 o'clock at night," Maresco said. "Honestly, if you'd put this out there, people would say we're crazy. But we didn't have any other choices. It caused some hardship. I wish we had better answers for them."
MYS has other prospects in the works, such as the possibility for a soft-use field as part of the Salona project. Soft-use refers to no lights and limited hours.
There is also the possibility of additional fields at Langley Fork Park. But Langley Fork is federally owned. The county is working on a possible land swap with the federal government in order to use it. Foust is optimistic that the transfer may happen in the next six months. But funding and development of the fields could take a couple of years, according to McLean Youth Soccer.