After numerous complaints from residents who have been shut out of local recreation programs, Howard County softball, volleyball and basketball leagues will limit the participation of non-county residents or workers, recreation officials announced last week.

Under the new rules, 80 percent of the members of softball, volleyball and basketball teams playing in the county-sponsored leagues must live or work in the county.

Gary Arthur, chief of the bureau of recreation, said the changes were made because many residents complained that spots on the leagues were often taken by nonresidents attracted to the county because of its reputation for tough competition.

"The new rule had to be {implemented} in order to allow county residents a chance to play at their facilities," Arthur said. "In weeding out the people who are not residents of Howard County, it should allow many extra spaces for teams to play."

Terry Heffner, a Howard County resident who is captain of a volleyball team called the Gaines Setters, welcomed the change. He said that he and other team members, who had played in the league for four years and once had placed second in the league, was very upset last year to find out that his team would not be able to play in the league because all the spots had been filled.

"I'm very pleased with the new rule because it will give Howard County residents a greater chance to participate in an activity that they pay for with their tax dollar," he said.

The first impact of the change is evident in the softball leagues now being formed. Volleyball and basketball leagues will form later in the year.

Arthur said the new rules were necessary since the leagues could not be expanded to accommodate more teams. The county already sanctions more than 300 softball teams using about 30 playing fields around the county. There are 48 volleyball teams with long waiting lists and 40 basketball teams, he said.

Howard County officials will check team rosters and will insist on home or work addresses for team members, Arthur explained. People will not be allowed to use post office box addresses to register, he added.

Any team not meeting the residency requirements will be forced "I'm very pleased with the new rule because it will give Howard County residents a greater chance to participate in an activity that they pay for with their tax dollar."

-- Terry Heffner

to forfeit all the games in which the ineligible players participated, Arthur said.

However, after the first two weeks of registration for the leagues, if there are still openings, non-county teams may apply, Arthur explained.

Cindy Williams, a Howard County resident who was on a team put on a waiting list last year for the county program, said that she now plays on a team in Anne Arundel County. But she said she would rather return to Howard if she could now "claim a spot."

But teams with nonresidents complained about the rules change. Joan Carter, who lives in Baltimore County, plays with a volleyball team that is made up primarily of Baltimore County residents seeking to play in the Howard league.

She said the residency requirement will restrict competition and leave out some of the strongest teams.

William M. Mitchell, executive secretary of the recreation bureau, said that the new policy had the support of the administrators of the athletic leagues.

He said the county did not consider a 100 percent residency requirement for the leagues because "some federal funds are involved and federal funds stipulate that the facilities will be available to the general public."