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Youth teams compete on fields -- and for them

Despite the recent arrival of two sports complexes, playing space is tight.

By ANDREW MEACHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- As youth sports leagues gear up for the summer, organizers hope practice and playing fields will continue to be available. Those resources have been tested recently as both Meadowlawn and Azalea middle schools are due for new buildings.

Football teams that had practiced on those fields will have to look elsewhere. Despite the recent additions of the 31st Street Sports Complex and the Lakewood Baseball Complex, both funded by Penny for Pinellas, playing space is tight.

"Our city keeps getting younger, and with that growth comes more kids," said Leisure Services Director Lee Metzger.

Three soccer leagues have contributed to the space crunch. The sport has grown in popularity since the 1999 U.S. women's World Cup victory, Metzger said, and "soccer is a game any kid can play. It's not like the tallest kid playing basketball or the most rugged kid playing football."

The city tries to support independent leagues by making sure they have a place to play. Because there is little land left, the city either must buy occupied properties and convert them or share fields with public schools.

A joint-use agreement allows independent sports leagues to play on school fields when school is not in session. The city maintains and irrigates the properties of schools that let teams play on their grounds.

The Bandits, a nine-team league within the Suncoast Youth Football Conference, have been learning about space shortages the hard way. They were displaced from the two Meadowlawn fields and still do not have a practice area, although an agreement with Sawgrass Lake Elementary could be finalized soon.

Even with a practice field, the Bandits will continue playing their five home games at Northeast High School for the July-to-October season at a cost of $5,000.

Northeast is not part of the joint-use agreement on playing space. The money goes to pay school personnel who are required to be at the events, and other out-of-pocket costs, Metzger said.

Crescent Lake will gauge interest in a dog park

Some Crescent Lake neighbors would like to add a dog park between Huggins-Stengel Field and Seventh Street. Dog parks are on the rise nationwide but have been slow to develop in St. Petersburg.

Dog owners evicted from North Shore Park in a recent police crackdown like the idea, said Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association president Clifford Holensworth.

The acre under consideration is already fenced in on three sides. A prospective plan calls for city-funded park benches, landscaping, a water fountain for dogs, and an additional fence.

The association's board wants the neighborhood's 800 residents, and not just association members, to make the decision, Holensworth said.

The association is waiting for guidance from the new City Council on how to request the park.

The Coquina Key Property Owners Association approved a dog park there in November.

Sunken Gardens extends welcome to associations

Sunken Gardens, which got a face lift from the city and is geared for expansion, has been taking its message to neighborhoods. At a meeting of the Euclid Heights Neighborhood Association on Tuesday, program supervisor Chuck Boehme urged residents to attend frequently.

"Come once a month," said Boehme, 48. "You'll see how it changes your thoughts just to come and walk on the trail."

The park, at 1825 Fourth St. N, has proved a popular place for couples to tie the knot. Since the city bought Sunken Gardens in late 1999, 35 couples have married there, said office systems specialist Maggie Hayes. Weddings have increased this year to an average of six a month, she said.

Meetings

BROADWATER: 7 p.m. Wednesday. St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, 3747 34th St. S. Mayor Rick Baker.

EUCLID ST. PAUL: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. St. Paul's Catholic Church School, 1900 12th St. S. Homeopath Martin Keane.

HISTORIC KENWOOD: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Albright United Methodist Church, 2750 Fifth Ave. N.

NORTH DOWNTOWN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N.

SNELL ISLE: 7 p.m. Thursday. St. Petersburg Woman's Club, 40 Snell Isle Blvd.

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