Competition is fierce on Forsyth County parks, but those who play lacrosse through the county league are finding it can get just as heated to even get field space.
At a recent meeting of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Board, members voted unanimously to look at field space allocation for square-field sports, to table changing park fees until next month and to ask the county to examine allegations that United Futbol Academy (UFA), a soccer organization that uses Forsyth County fields, owes more than $1 million in fees to the county attorney.
The decision came after a lengthy discussion with county staff and parents of lacrosse players, who are concerned with field space for lacrosse and want to reduce the number of out-of-county players.
Patrick Britt, who spearheaded the effort and who is the District 3 representative on the county planning board, said the issue with out-of-county players, particularly via UFA, can be solved by parents providing three pieces of identification to be allowed access — driver’s licenses, utility bills and their child’s report card were used as examples.
Britt, who has previously spoken to the board about field space for lacrosse, said the cost to keep up with that information could be paid for with more than $1 million he said UFA owes the county.
“What if I were here to tell you I could give you $1.2 million?” Britt said. “It’s money that [the department] didn’t collect.”
He said UFA has paid only about $10,000 in fees for out-of-county players and owes about $75,000 per season — two per year for eight years — for a total of $1.2 million, based on calculations he said he pulled from an open records request to the county.
Parents took exception to the fact that out-of-county players were using county amenities paid for by the $100 million Parks, Recreation and Greenspace Bond approved by voters in 2008 and that county residents are in competition for space with a for-profit business.
“They are a for-profit organization, and they are an anomaly,” Britt said. “Let’s break this [plan] out, or let’s roll them up like all of the other sports up to [feeder programs for] the high schools. Let’s get out of the businesses of these people trying to stab us for fees.”
Some also voiced concerns that UFA encouraged players not to play in high school and that the county’s new field space is being built in the north end of the county while most of the demand for field space is in the south.
Officials with UFA, who were not present at the meeting and were reached later, said Britt was “grasping” for the amount owed and that he simply does not want to wait for space.
“I am sure it is easy to make accusations when no one is there to refute them,” said Deo Moleka, executive director of the organization. “These statements that are being made, including at the meeting by the same individual, are baseless and without facts. He has his own agenda and is not willing to do what the rest of us had to do for many years, which is wait in line to have access to fields in the county.
“The same individual asked us to help him with field space last season and we gladly did in the name of cooperation … but he is not mentioning that.”
Moleka said the group pays about $100,000 per year in fees to the county.
“As for fees, we pay a per-player fee for using parks and rec facilities each season,” he said. “Tournaments are extra fees. Our annual fees to [parks] are now about $100,000 per year. We pay our fees each season as required and will keep following policies as set by the [parks] department.”
UFA was formed in 2010 after two of the county’s largest programs merged and has since expanded to areas outside Forsyth. Moleka said the group’s largest events bring up to 500 teams and has a positive effect on the local economy.
County’s next step
Wayne Maddox, athletic manager for county parks, said field space for the coming spring season had already been allocated before the meeting.
“Our inventory for rectangular fields is 32, with, right off the top of my head, 26 being artificial turf,” he said. “Using that [one field for] 120-160 [participants] ball park number to allocate field space, what we’re planning on doing in the spring … is lacrosse is allocated 13 fields, UFA is 16 fields and the YMCA has [three] fields.”
Maddox said he could see the side of those in the county wanting field space and recommended that if fees are increased for out-of-county players they should remain as they are now for those in Forsyth.
Parks Director Jim Pryor said the fees are due for an update.
“We’re in a rapidly growing [county] with rapidly growing parks,” he said. “We’re working off a fee structure that was set in 2007 all the way up to 2013. Our community is evolving pretty quick, and that fee hasn’t changed since then.”
Pryor also said that both parks and UFA have grown since the program began in 2010.
District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent was present at the meeting and said an agreement between the county and Forsyth County Schools for proposed field space on land around Denmark High School could help with the issue.