Looking for more places to play

Growing number of Stillwater youth teams puts added pressure on available fields

stillwaterIf baseball diamonds, football fields and soccer pitches are the fields of dreams for children, they have become something of a scheduling nightmare for youth sports groups.

“Everybody says we’re short of field space. Nobody had a grasp of what we’ve got here,” said Stillwater Councilman Mike Polehna.

At Polehna’s urging, the city had an intern develop an inventory of available sports fields in Independent School District 834 communitites.

After nearly 500 hours of work, intern Patrick Kopesky found 50 community parks with athletic facilities in ISD 834.

But Kopesky told the Stillwater City Council Tuesday there is little coordination in how teams are scheduled to use various fields or fees charged by communities.
“Who are the contacts for different facilities and what are the fees,” he said. “Some municipalities charge for fields, others do not. Is the current system of scheduling fields working or does it need to be changed.”

One recommendation Kopesky made in his study was creation of a local sports commission to oversee youth sports groups and help sort out field scheduling issues. He added that the local commission could be modeled after a similar system used by Woodbury.

“Is it a need to have or nice to have,” he said about a sports commission. “I think it would be a great thing to have.”

Kopesky said youth sports group representatives he spoke with had two major needs. One was another full-size lighted baseball field. Currently, the only 90-foot baseball field with lights is at the Lake Elmo VFW Post, he added.

The other need was more lacrosse practice fields, Kopesky said. When Kopesky graduated in 2006 from Stillwater Area High School, there were 2 youth lacrosse teams. Now he said there are 46 boys and girls lacrosse teams.

“The popularity of lacrosse has just exploded,” he said.

Another issue Kopesky said he discovered during his field inventory was several under- and over-utilized fields.

“St. Mary’s Point is one facility that no one has maintained or used for years,” he said. That facility has a baseball diamond with backstop and enough open space for a combination lacrosse and football field.

On the opposite end was Oak-Land Junior High School, where four baseball diamonds and other large fields are under constant use from 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, according to Kopesky.

“We need to develop better scheduling methods so fields are not overused,” he said.
Along with creating a central sports commission, Kopesky’s study recommends improving baseball fields at St. Mary’s Point and Afton-Lakeland Elementary School; work with other communities on creating a sports complex that could be a draw for events and tournaments.

“Do we have enough facilities to support the needs out there,” asked Councilman Ted Kozlowski.

“There’s enough, but they’re being overused,” Kopesky said.

“I’m not sure I see where the problem is,” said Councilman Doug Menikheim.

“It’s disjointed. I think we have to look at some type of structure,” Polehna said. “How do we make our system work together? You look at Woodbury, Eagan, Eden Prairie, in those places you have one municipality in the school district. We (ISD 834) have 17. This is to get a dialogue going.”