They call it “the boneyard.”
The field used by youth lacrosse and football teams at Independent Hill in Prince William County exemplifies the embarrassing condition of the county’s playing fields, parents and players said at a town hall meeting last week. The grass is patchy and dirt lumpy, creating a less-than-ideal playing surface.
Worse, though, the field sits adjacent to the county landfill, and the buzzards that circle overhead often regurgitate bones and other matter onto the field. Parents said they worry about their children’s health.
The conditions at Independent Hill were among the issues raised at a Nov. 6 forum at the Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge. Officials wanted the community’s input on how to address the shortage and inadequacy of playing fields as the county faces a boom in sports leagues.
Officials plan to present the results of their study and the public’s input to the Board of County Supervisors on Nov. 26.
The forums are part of an effort by Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) to seek solutions as residents complain of inadequate facilities, space and playing time.
Stewart told supervisors in September that Prince William should spend as much as $21 million over the next several years to build and improve playing fields. He said the county should consider a bond referendum next year to finance millions more for new and upgraded fields, including an indoor multiuse sportsplex, similar to the Dulles SportsPlex in Sterling. Adding the ballot question would require approval by the full board.
The county faces a dire field crunch, said Jim Eckert, who leads the Brigade Youth Lacrosse league, which serves 800 players in Manassas and western Prince William. The league struggles to find fields for practice. This year, 30 players were sent to Fauquier County to find field space, he told county officials. Accepting new players into the league is a challenge, he said.
“If we had the field space, we would be the largest program in Northern Virginia,” Eckert said.
Perhaps the biggest frustration among youth league leaders is that school fields are often empty while teams cram onto public fields on weekends. Unlike in neighboring Fairfax County, middle and high school fields are often not available for use by recreation-league teams.
Many county middle school fields are available, but teams need permission from school officials to use them — something some have been unwilling to grant, league leaders said. High school fields are also generally off-limits, because school athletic directors do not want to run the risk of outside teams damaging them.
Many attendees at the forum said the sports leagues should demand change.
“Go to your high school, go to your middle school and demand to be on those fields,” said David Pratt, who is in an adult baseball league.
Parents asked why fields at county schools couldn’t be opened to recreation-league teams immediately. The rules are spelled out in an agreement between Prince William and the school system, County Executive Melissa S. Peacor said. Although that agreement is being renegotiated, the rules about the use of school fields are slated to the stay unchanged.
Still, she said, officials would work to encourage the school system to allow leagues to access more school fields.
“We’re going to work on that,” Peacor said.
Stewart told the crowd that the leagues needed to cooperate with the county and with one another to find solutions. He said the county would seek to deal with the issue by using a number of the suggestions from league leaders: charging fees and finding corporate sponsorships among them.
“We have to find [solutions] by working together,” he said.