Commentary: We need more lighted athletic fields

Costa Mesa and Newport Beach

lack a sufficient number of good-quality athletic fields.

Several people have said at Costa Mesa Fairview Advisory Committee meetings that we have plenty of ball fields. But if both cities had enough, we wouldn't see all the bickering, adult volunteers spending hours scheduling, youth sports organizations pleading their cases for use permits, youth leagues turning away children, and the ongoing need for maintenance because of overuse.

In 2012, more than 10,000 Costa Mesa resident youths participated in one or more organized athletic programs. These numbers were based on the Group 1-6 rosters that are required to be submitted every season as part of the field-allocation permit process.

Because of poor planning and misappropriated priorities, Costa Mesa controls only 11 utility fields and six baseball fields at five locations. Through the joint-use agreement with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, there are 32 utility fields and 18 baseball fields.

The fields are not meant for organized sports in many cases; the dimensions make some unplayable for certain sports. With most sporting teams consisting of seven to 15 players, and practice taking place two times per week, the math spells it out: We are at full capacity.

People may argue that some of the 10,000 youths will participate in more than one sport, which is true. That doesn't change the fact that they aren't playing two sports on the same night, at the same time and on the same field.

The field numbers don't recognize daylight and volunteer restrictions. Soccer, as an example, runs a fall season and a modified spring season. By the middle of the fall season, and in the beginning of the spring season, all but seven of those locations become unplayable after 5:15 p.m. because they have no light.

Permits in both cities are granted starting at 4 p.m., and the youth groups rely on hundreds of volunteer coaches to leave work and drive to practice. Many of these volunteers are barely able to make a 5 p.m. practice, let alone one at 4 p.m.

So not only do groups lose their already-limited fields, but they lose volunteers who cannot manage a 4 p.m. practice for one hour, which in turn, leaves leagues no choice but to turn away willing children.

An increase in field lighting would absolutely help ease the limited availability of fields in both communities. I encourage the leaders of both cities and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to bring lights to some of these fields.

Newport Beach has been active in the pursuit of additional field space, such as the recently approved Sunset Ridge Park. I thank Newport Beach City Council members, Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissioners, and city staff for addressing the lack of active-use parks. And after eight years of actions and California Coastal Commission hearings, we are finally seeing Sunset Ridge Park come to fruition — for the benefit of thousands of youths in West Newport Beach.

Thank you to Costa Mesa City Council members, Parks and Recreation commissioners and city staff for also addressing the lack of active-use parks and creating the Fairview Park Advisory Committee, which is actively pursuing fields that can be lighted and working with school trustees to open and improve NMUSD school sites for athletics, and to Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger for stepping squarely in the spotlight (often taking harsh criticism) to fight for the youths and their families of Costa Mesa.

Thanks to the hundreds of volunteer members from all the youth sports organizations for the countless hours spent managing, coaching, referring and working with cities to provide a safe, fun and enjoyable place to play every season.

BRETT ECKLES is commissioner of AYSO Region 97 and a Costa Mesa resident.

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