2012-05-25 / Top Stories

Youth Sports Gone? It’s All About The Money

By Howard Schwach

Young girls play soccer at Fort Tilden. Popular program may end if NPS increases fees. Young girls play soccer at Fort Tilden. Popular program may end if NPS increases fees. Four years ago, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) paid Gateway National Recreation Area $1,600 to use its Fort Tilden fields for both the fall and spring soccer seasons. Two years ago, the National Park Service raised the cost to $3,800 per season – a total of $7,600 a year.

Now, organizers say, the national park is looking to charge the youth sport’s organization a $10 per hour fee, which would raise the costs again, this time to more than $20,000 a year – a fee that youth sports organizer Anthony Di Carlo says would put the league out of business.

“While I can understand the changes that Gateway is undergoing, to force children and the Rockaway community from the fields they have utilized for years and now utilize daily is an atrocity,” Di Carlo says, pointing out that more than 500 boys and girls participate on 23 soccer teams, playing on Fort Tilden fields they have used since 1996.

“The community uses Fort Tilden to help our youth grow, to teach sportsmanship, to respect authority and as a place to stay off the streets,” he adds, “The proposed new fees could price us out of the fields that we both use and care for. That would leave our children with no place to play soccer.”

DiCarlo says that he and his committee have been looking for other places to play, but to no avail.

Beach Channel High School has its own athletic schedule and there are too few slots to satisfy his program.

Aviator Sports, a private concession at Floyd Bennett Field, another NPS venue, has beautiful fields, he says, but they are too expensive for his program to afford.

“It’s unfair to burden the families in these troubled economic times,” he says.

Other local organizations using the Fort Tilden venue have been impacted by the increased NPS costs.

The Rockaway Music and Arts Council, which once ran a highly-successful summer concert series at Fort Tilden as well as a Fall Festival have now cancelled or curtailed those activities.

The Rockaway Little League, which has been using several ball fields at Fort Tilden for more than 20 years, was recently told that it would be charged a per-square-foot fee for using the fields, something that would cost tens of thousands of dollars and put the league, which has more than 700 participants, out of business.

The league is still negotiating with NPS officials.

Those officials say that all of their community-based activities have to be “revenue neutral,” that is, they have to pay for themselves.

Just last week, however, a man looking to start a soccer training program at Fort Tilden was told that it would cost his program $50 an hour to rent the fields, which are unused except for the youth sports program in the spring and summer months.

Some locals believe that the National Park Service is looking to remove all “organized recreation” from the park to make room for more educational, historic and environmental programs, and that the increased fees are part of a plan to force the Rockaway organizations from the national park.

A 10-year-management plan for the park is scheduled to be revealed and discussed this summer.

After that plan is finalized, the picture of its impact on the local organizations may be clarified, park officials say.

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