As president of the Southern Maryland Youth Organization, Robin Kegg was happy to see membership in the Pomfret youth sports group jump by 20 percent in the past year.
But she was less than happy when grappling with a consequence of the surge: jammed practice space.
On one occasion, Kegg said, nine of her league's 18 soccer teams simultaneously shared two fields. Squads kicked balls from sideline to sideline; some headed lengthways; one group claimed the unused patch in the center of field.
The squeeze extends beyond Pomfret. With both rapid housing growth and children of baby boomers crowding into youth sports leagues, Charles County faces a shortage of soccer practice fields.
The situation has brought "frustration and concern," according to the presidents of five Charles County youth soccer associations that together field 100 teams.
"We need fields not miles and miles from home, but areas in neighborhoods [that] coaches and parents can get to in time for practice after long commutes from work," the soccer presidents, including Kegg, said in a recent letter to county commissioners.
County officials acknowledge the shortcoming.
"They have a real, immediate need for places to practice," said Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large). "Other sports have needs, but also have more fields to work with."
At a meeting last week with the soccer presidents, commissioners asked county workers to examine schools and other county facilities to see if there are any available stretches of level ground that soccer teams might use. Results of that facilities census should soon be available, said Tom Roland, the county's chief of parks and grounds.
Roland said the need for practice fields is most acute in the Waldorf area, where 50 teams vie for space. He also singled out western Charles County as needing fields.
According to Levy, the county in the future will consider accommodating community-use fields as it acquires land for schools. That usually has not been a priority.
"We will be adding recreational space every time we build a school," Levy said. He said the county is seeking sites in Waldorf for three schools.
Roland said officials may soon add athletic fields to Ruth B. Swann Memorial Park in Bryans Road. In addition, county officials expect soon to purchase a 94-acre tract off Route 229 in the Bensville area, Roland said.
He said those expansions may take pressure off western Waldorf and the Bryans Road area, but even more fields likely will be needed.
Levy said officials want to look into using parts of the 2,250-acre former Chapman's Landing tract for athletic fields.
"We think that needs looking at," Levy said. "Clearly, when you talk to the Bryans Road and Indian Head people, they have a need for soccer fields and baseball fields."
Maryland last year paid $25.3 million to buy most of the tract and forestall a proposed housing development. State officials have not publicly said how they intend to use the land.
However, a proposal for playing fields could draw fire from those who want to limit disturbances of the tract's natural terrain.
Roland, the parks director, said football, baseball and soccer leagues from western Charles County all have expressed interest in athletic fields on the Chapman's property.
Kegg, who also serves as her youth group's soccer commissioner, said the lack of practice space has afflicted teams for years.
She has little hope that the squeeze will ease any time soon.
"With all the housing developments going up everywhere, you better believe it's going to get worse," Kegg said.
Several recent studies issued similar projections. The county's 1997 comprehensive plan called for more football, soccer and baseball fields and said development of recreational facilities "is not keeping pace with demand."
A consultant's report this year cited inadequate funding as the major reason.
Both studies recommended the county make up part of the shortfall by extracting fees from housing developers. Such charges usually are passed along to home buyers.