Arlington County is asking residents how and when they use athletic fields.
The County’s Public Spaces Master Plan, adopted in April 2019, calls for a public survey every five years to garner feedback to determine how and when Arlingtonians use the available athletic fields.
The collected data will be used to update the permit process, availability of fields, and who has access when.
“We have a finite amount of park spaces,” Jerry Solomon, Community Engagement Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation, writes to ARLnow in an email. “Our goal is to ensure we are using them as efficiently and effectively as possible. We need to determine if we are offering field spaces at times that people can best access them.”
Fields for adult soccer leagues, for example, are most needed outside of typical working hours. Baseball diamonds for Little League should be accessible when the players are, like on weekends or after school.
This survey will help make sure this is the case, plus provide additional data that may not be as self-explanatory.
The survey specifically asks about activity start and end times for different age groups as well, like if kids 9 and youngers should end their field use prior sundown on weekdays and who should have access to lighted fields.
In total, Arlington has 96 athletic fields — a mix of rectangular fields (35), diamond fields (42), and a combination of the two (19). That can be further broken down into lighted (37) and not lighted fields (59) as well as natural grass (80) and synthetic turf fields (16).
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the fields that have the most use on an individual basis are the lighted, synthetic turf fields. On average, each one of those fields gets more than 2,100 hours of play per year. This is compared to an average of 700 hours per non-lighted, natural grass field.
For years, which fields got lights has been a source of community contention.
Athletic field use in Arlington is often not a free-for-all or on a first-come, first-serve basis. Nearly all of the fields are either only accessible to permit holders or priority is given to permit holders.
Only six of the 96 athletic fields in Arlington are available as drop-in fields, or “community fields.” Even those, though, can be reserved for scheduled programs or practices.
That has drawn the ire of some residents, like those who live near Pentagon City and want to see one or both of the softball diamonds at Virginia Highlands Park opened up for community use.
There’s even a tiered priority system for the allocation of permits, which was first recommended in 2016 due to an “inequity” that existed in how fields were allocated.
Arlington Public Schools are given first priority, then county-organized non-profit youth sport leagues, then adult leagues, then for-profit sports leagues, and, finally, individual rentals or other organizations.
All of this, plus Arlington’s growing population, is resulting in heavy use and demand for athletic fields. According to the PSMP, the county could need an additional 11 rectangular and 2 diamond fields by 2035 to maintain the current levels of use and access.
The hope is that the survey and public feedback will allow for better, more efficient, and more fair use of the limited field space.
This survey will be open until the end of the month, says Solomon, at which point DPR will review and report findings to the Public Spaces Master Plan Implementation Committee in the spring.
There could be more opportunities to provide feedback come the spring and summer, Solomon noted.
The Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents if they would attend indoor programs and classes this winter.
In an email sent yesterday, the parks department announced that as staff prepare for winter, they are exploring opportunities for safe indoor classes and programs.
The survey asks whether residents are comfortable attending or sending children to indoor programming, or whether they would rather stick with virtual activities.
“It’s really to take folks’ temperature,” spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.
Whether the department hosts programs this winter is “not up to us — it’s up to the guidelines,” she said, referencing state health guidelines.
One guideline in Phase 3 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan, initiated in August, tells establishments to keep 10 feet of distance between attendees when exercise activities, singing or cheering are involved. In all other settings, the minimum distance required is six feet.
Program sizes will be smaller and in some cases, due to constraints, particular classes may not be viable, Kalish said.
Community centers will have one-way entrances and exits, be reconfigured and cleaned more frequently, the email said.
Options for physical activities range from gymnastics to therapeutic adapted services, and other suggested topics for programming include history, music, science and discovery, languages and nature.
The parks department continues to offer virtual programs for people of all ages, abilities and interests. For now, the department said outdoor spaces are open and it continues to run “Programs in the Park (while the weather is good).”
Arlington’s RISE program is looking for volunteers to mentor court-involved high school students.
The program aims to provide a support system for young adults in Arlington County who might not have one at home, program coordinator Erika Yalowitz said. RISE also welcomes the siblings of at-risk students to participate in the activities.
RISE — which stands for Respect, Integrity, Self Esteem and Empowerment — offers group and one-on-one mentor-mentee interactions in sessions that are both recreational and formational, to build lasting quality relationships, Yalowitz said. One part of the program is about self-improvement and planning for the future, while another aspect is mentors and mentees bonding via activities like going to a movie theater or carving pumpkin.
The mentorship program’s goal is to build relationships that will benefit the mentees even after they graduate high school.
“Most [mentees] have stayed at least until they complete high school,” Yalowitz said. “And then when they find a job or when they want to go to college, they have someone in addition to their parents, or their uncles or aunts or teachers at school to give them recommendation letters for a job or for college, and that is very valuable because we are creating a support structure that they didn’t have before.”
The program is currently in need of male mentors. Many of the mentors are women, while a majority of the mentees are boys. Preferably, the program coordinators would like to partner boys with male mentors and girls with female mentors, Yalowitz said.
Those interested in applying can reach out to Yalowitz via email at [email protected].
(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) One of Arlington’s youth soccer teams is forfeiting games after members say a player was wrongfully removed from the team.
The Division 1 recreational soccer team LAFC has already forfeited two games, and members say they may forfeit a third this weekend if fellow player Tania Mendez can’t join them on the field. Her coaches and teammates are protesting a decision by the organization that oversees the league, the Arlington Soccer Association (ASA), which said she was too old to play.
The issue came to a head when an ASA official showed up at a game on Saturday, September 21, and told the team their forward was no longer allowed on the field — something coaches said was a change in policy.
Coach Deanna Herrity told ARLnow it was the players who then made a decision: “I asked my team if they wanted to play the second half without Tania. And they said ‘no.’ And I said alright ‘we leave.’ And we left.”
‘Playing makes me feel at peace’
Tania Mendez immigrated to the U.S. when she was 14 after growing up in El Salvador. She’s lived in Arlington for the last five years.
After arriving in the U.S., learning English meant repeating grades 8 and 11. Now she’s 19 and starting her her senior year at Wakefield High School. But no matter where she’s lived, she’d played soccer, and even dreamed of going pro when she was younger.
“All my life has been spent playing soccer and I think that there’s no other sport that makes me feel as happy as soccer does,” Mendez told ARLnow in an interview in Spanish. “Every time I’m on the field I forget everything else, playing makes me feel at peace.”
But after playing two games with the team this season, ASA’s Recreational Soccer Commissioner David Gould informed the team midway through their game on Saturday, September 21 that Mendez was ineligible to play due to her age. Several teammates and her the team’s coaches told ARLnow it was a confusing confrontation, with Mendez telling ARLnow that she was speechless at the time.
“It was a very diminishing moment,” said one of her teammates, Valentina, 17, a senior at Washington-Liberty High School. “She just doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s been receiving from the ASA.”
Coach Herrity said the ASA has helped make the league welcoming for all kinds of players in the past, including by offering scholarships to cover registration fees. However, she said she fears this action represents a new policy that could harm other players like Tania who also need their help.
“It’s going to disproportionately affect immigrants,” she said in an interview with ARLnow. “Oftentimes you’ll have friends who are immigrants who are not the typical age of the peers of the grade.”
It’s a concern she said she worries about in the larger picture of youth soccer participation falling, and becoming a sport for wealthier, whiter children.
Policies and Older Players
Coaches Andrea Leeson and Herrity had registered Mendez with the ASA, but that on the Friday before their second game, the organization emailed them that Mendez had been removed from the roster “effective immediately” because of her age. After not receiving a reply to their follow-up emails, the coaches put Mendez in the game the next day, which led Gould to arrive and ask her to be removed.
Leeson and Herrity said they were surprised by the ASA’s actions because it had been a long-standing policy at ASA to approve older players who had stayed behind to catch up on English.
In the ASA’s handbook, it notes that the recreational soccer leagues are sorted by grade level groups, “with the exception of players who are out of sync with other students their age (i.e.: due to repeating or skipping a year or more of school).”
The organization is governed by the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, which states in its bylaws that players must be under 19 years of age. However, the organization also notes that the rules of the national U.S. Youth Soccer Association supersede its own. Within the national organization’s policy and players rules document, players 19 years and under are included in the “youth” league category.
ASA approved a 19-year-old player on the team earlier this year, according to emails reviewed by ARLnow. Emails showed how written requests from the coaches for an exception led ASA staff to manually override the age limit in the online registration system.
In the February emails, Gould wrote that helping with the registration was “not a problem” and added that “she’s back there now!” in reference to the player signing up. That lenience, however, has seemingly changed.
“Arlington Soccer Association has allowed 19 year old players up until now, but [recently has] chosen to interpret their policy such that this 19 year old girl cannot play,” Leeson said. “We have exhausted our options in discussing this with them, as they don’t respond to our emails or requests to discuss this in more detail.”
ASA Executive Director Adam Brick responded after publication, telling ARLnow that, “While I am unable to comment on any specific individual’s situation, I am happy to clarify the age-limit rule which comes under the auspices of the United States Soccer Federation (US Soccer), US Youth Soccer (USYS) and the Virginia Youth Soccer Association (VYSA).”
Brick emphasized that based on age-grouping charts posted here from the VYSA, a student who turns 20 years old in 2020 is not eligible for youth soccer programs.
Local professionals have the opportunity to contribute to the Arlington community through new a mentorship program managed by Arlington’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit.
RISE — an acronym for respect, integrity, self-esteem and empowerment — pairs at-risk kids with an adult in their community. Mentors help their mentees develop social, emotional and practical skills, program coordinator Erika Yalowitz wrote in an email to ARLnow.
“The objective is to provide young Arlingtonians a path to achieve their dreams,” Yalowitz wrote.
Yalowitz says participants in the program are usually Arlington high school students with histories of delinquency or status offenses, like breaking curfew or skipping school, or those who have been otherwise identified as at-risk. Participation is voluntary for mentees.
The group of mentors and teens typically meets in the evening on the first Wednesday of every month to participate in activities like hiking, bowling or mini-golf. Those interested in mentoring must commit to the program for a minimum of one year, submit to background and criminal record checks and attend on-site training.
Photo courtesy Erika Yalowitz
Arlington Babe Ruth Baseball works with the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation to provide the county’s children — more than 1,300 boys and girls from age 4 to 12 — a high quality baseball program in the local area. With eight levels of play, ABR promotes equal competition, camaraderie, full participation, good sportsmanship and fun!
Teams are forming now for Spring 2018. Register by Feb. 1 on the ABR website: www.ArlingtonBabeRuth.com.
ABR endorses the neighborhood/school concept in youth sports. Where possible, ABR groups players on teams based on the neighborhood in which they live, or the school that they attend. Most likely players’ friends are on school teams which practice in their own neighborhoods.
We use the neighborhood principle at every level except the oldest–Majors 70′ (our intermediate size field league, 50/70) for 11 and 12-year-olds, where a modified draft creates a more competitive playing experience.
ABR is committed to providing each player with an enjoyable and valuable baseball experience, helping kids learn the game while developing life skills and an appreciation for baseball. We provide each coach in the league with coach training clinics and coaching manuals covering safety, skills, teaching the game, and managing the ups and downs of competition.
Outstanding Travel Baseball
For those ABR players seeking a highly-competitive experience in addition to recreational baseball, ABR Travel Baseball is a nationally-competitive youth baseball organization for players ages 8-12. ABR Travel teams participate in the Cal Ripken all-star tournaments and regularly advance into the Virginia State Cal Ripken Tournament. ABR Travel’s 2017 8YO, 9YO and 10YO Storm teams won their District Championships and after winning their State tourney, the 10YO Storm team represented Virginia in the Southeast Regional Tournament last summer.
The county’s Dept. of Human Services is enhancing its suicide prevention strategies based on the Zero Suicide initiative. The overall goal is to reduce the number of suicides in the county — there were 41 reported between 2013 an 2015 — to zero and improve care and outcomes for those seeking help.
Over the summer some county staff attended a seminar to learn more about implementing the Zero Suicide methods. They’ve applied the strategies and have been teaching other employees about them so everyone is on the same page in the new year.
After an assessment earlier this year, staff discovered inconsistencies in the suicide prevention knowledge and responses among the different divisions within DHS, says Sharon Lawrence, Children’s Behavioral Healthcare bureau chief.
“We wanted to establish a universal approach to make sure that we’re addressing suicide,” Lawrence says.
Part of the revamped approach is to step up training and to ensure all relevant DHS staff members are comfortable handling suicide-related discussions and situations.
In addition, the Children’s Behavioral Healthcare division is spearheading one of the major Zero Suicide-related programs in the new year: a pilot to assess the treatment model and address youth “suicidality,” both in identifying those at risk and in ongoing treatment of those individuals. As part of the pilot the division is implementing the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, which includes plain-language questions that make it easier for staff to identify young people who are at risk of self-harm and to have more productive follow-up visits.
One reason the department chose to focus on youth for the pilot is that suicide is one of the top three leading causes of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Plus, local survey results released in 2014 indicated that 25 percent of Arlington 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks at a time.
“In the past year-and-a-half we have trained over 300 people in Arlington, including in the schools, to be able to identify when a young person is at risk of harm and may be in distress,” Lawrence says.
Overall, the new methods are “basically a commitment to provide better suicide prevention strategies and tools to DHS staff,” Lawrence says. “Suicide deaths are preventable, that’s the basis of Zero Suicide. The only way to prevent it is by implementing strategies that speak to leadership in terms of the culture you’re setting for staff and the community, [and by] providing training.”
The Department of Human Services’ increased push for suicide prevention also involves asking residents to give feedback via a short online survey about existing services, suicide prevention training and any unaddressed needs.
Lawrence says everyone should speak up if they encounter a person at risk of self-harm, whether it’s a young person or an adult. She suggests thinking of it like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign.
“People say ‘I don’t know what to say.’ It’s best to say something so you don’t ever feel like you missed an opportunity [to help],” says Lawrence.
She explains that it’s okay not to directly address a person at risk of self-harm. It’s sometimes better to first talk to someone with knowledge of handling such situations, like a counselor or teacher. But Lawrence reiterates the importance of not staying silent.
“There’s always help. There is help in Arlington County,” she says.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911 or the Department of Human Services’ emergency services line at 703-228-5160. CrisisLink also has a 24-hour crisis hotline at 703-527-4077 or 800-SUICIDE, or text 703-940-0888.
Arlington fielded some of the country’s top youth athletes in water polo last month.
Capital Water Polo has two of the top 25 youth water polo teams in the United States after competing in USA Water Polo’s 2016 Junior Olympics in San Jose, Calif., from July 22-30.
The club, which trains at the pools at Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield high schools, sent more than 50 athletes ages 10-18 from five teams to the tournament.
The under-14 girls’ and under-12 boys’ teams were Capital Water Polo’s top squads, finishing 22nd and 24th, respectively. The under-18 boys’ team finished 44th in its fifth appearance in the tournament and the under-16 and under-14 boys’ teams finished 76th and 79th, respectively.
“I am incredibly proud of all our athletes for their dedication during the tough 10 months of training leading up to this championship tournament, as well as for their formidable play against the top teams in the nation,” coach Leslie Enwistle said in a statement. “Many of our competitors’ programs have been ranked nationally for over 20 years. We demonstrated that our coaches’ commitment to effectively develop all our athletes was successful at the highest level.”
Photos courtesy of Teresa Byrne
Last month the newly-minted University of Virginia graduate and long-time ultimate frisbee player was presented with the Callahan Award, issued annually to the most valuable collegiate men’s and women’s players in the sport.
In recognition of her award and her engagement with the local ultimate community, the Arlington County Board issued a proclamation praising Johnston at a meeting earlier this month.
To receive a Callahan Award, a player is evaluated on their offensive and defensive abilities as well as their sportsmanship. Likewise, Chair Mary Hynes explained that the Board’s June 16 proclamation was meant to highlight both Johnston’s formidable athleticism and her extraordinary leadership skills.
“We are here today to recognize the extraordinary achievements of Alika Johnston both on and off the ultimate frisbee field,” Hynes said.
According to the website Ultiworld, which also named her its 2015 Women’s Player of the Year, Johnston has been a core member of the UVA’s ultimate team (the Hydras) since her freshman year in 2011, and was instrumental in the team’s development into an “elite contender.”
“Johnston’s play has spoken for itself all season long… a lot of breath and ink used in the act of praising her prolific and relentless performance,” the website said. “On both sides of the disc, she’s been a top producer and drastically influenced the fate of her team. Opponents have most been forced to submit to her, going with the ‘stopping six other people is more likely than stopping her’ strategy.”
Johnston has been playing ultimate since her days at H-B Woodlawn and credits the school with some of her success.
“I am so grateful to H-B Woodlawn’s program for introducing me to the sport and making all of this possible,” she said. “I’ve been moved by the outpouring of excitement and support from Arlington’s ultimate community.”
Johnston has also dedicated herself to introducing a new generation of athletes to the sport. She serves as USA Ultimate’s Virginia Girls State Youth Coordinator, and works to grow the sport through clinics, events and mentoring young players.
Arlington’s youth ultimate programs have grown rapidly in the past several years, as the sport becomes increasingly popular across the country. Opportunities to play can be found through the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington.
Photo courtesy Lawrence Cheng
Marymount is offering two sessions of the camp this summer, one for younger runners and one for more experienced athletes. Marymount’s cross-country and triathlon coach Zane Castro will coach both, assisted by professional triathlete Calah Schlabach and St. Anselm’s Abbey School cross-country coach Kailey Gotta.
The first session (June 22-26) is designed for runners age 8-13 who are looking to develop their skills. Enrollment in the five day camp costs $310, which includes lunch at the university and a camp t-shirt at the end of the session. The camp will run each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no cap on enrollment.
The second session (June 29-July 3) is capped at 25 students and is geared towards runners age 14-17 who are preparing for the coming cross-country season. The more intensive camp will run from 7:30 a.m to 12 p.m. every day. Cost of enrollment is $200.
According to a press release, participants in both camps will receive a written evaluation from the coaches at the end of the session. To enroll their child, parents should send an email with their child’s name, age and emergency contact number.
Parents must also fill out a registration form and bring the form and a check on the first day of the camp. The form, along with a list of other youth development camps being offered at Marymount this summer, can be found on the school’s website.
(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) The president of the Arlington Girls Softball Association says a lack of field space and a newly enforced school policy against signs has him very concerned for the future of the youth league.
The AGSA has been in operation for more than 30 years, President Steve Severn said, and currently serves about 500 girls, 92 percent of whom are Arlington residents. Those girls make up 38 local teams and six all-star and travel teams, who play games on just five fields in the county: Greenbrier Park next to Yorktown High School, Barcroft Park, Wakefield High School, Quincy Park and Arlington Traditional Elementary School.
This year, delayed construction at Wakefield has taken away that field, and Wakefield’s softball teams have taken the AGSA’s field at Barcroft Park. At the same time, the field at Arlington Traditional School is becoming increasingly problematic after Principal Holly Hawthorne banned sponsorship signs, a move the Arlington School Board supports.
“Having so few fields available creates havoc,” Severn told ARLnow.com today, after he sent an email to AGSA’s parents informing them of the issues the league faces. “High schools have the first choice to have fields, and that’s the way it should be… But there aren’t enough fields to go around. Youth sports are screaming for outside field space.”
Severn said the Wakefield field opened for one day this spring, but Arlington Public Schools closed it after it determined the fences were too short to protect the surrounding neighborhood. APS facilities staff said it will reopen in June, but high school teams historically have asked to be the first team to use a new field. Hence, Severn said, he doubts AGSA will be able to use that field until spring 2016.
While field space is a serious issue for every league, sport and age group in Arlington, the sign ban is one that could jeopardize AGSA’s future.
“If sponsors cannot see their banners or recognition for the money they contribute to our organization, they’re not going to contribute,” Severn said. “These are by and large community businesses. Their kids play on the team. That is going to hurt us. We depend on sponsorship money, we do not take in enough money from registration. I don’t know what the end result is going to be. Our sponsorship base is going to dry up eventually.”
Severn said the league has been hanging banners recognizing sponsors for decades. This year, they tried to hang small, individual signs for each sponsor, which Severn said Hawthorne put a stop to. He asked the School Board to step in, and they did — to affirm Hawthorne’s decision.
“Ms. Hawthorne contacted APS senior staff to review APS policies on the display of sponsor banners, and we agreed that display of such banners on school property is not permissible,” School Board Chair James Lander said in an email to Severn. “The School Board wishes the AGSA success with the remainder of their season and we appreciate the patience the teams have shown.”
Hawthorne did not respond to an interview request this morning. When asked for comment, APS forwarded to ARLnow.com Lander’s message to Severn.
Severn said he’s met with APS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operation John Chadwick, which “opened up a line of communication, but didn’t resolve anything.” The School Board’s ruling could mean no more banners at Wakefield when the new field opens, either. Severn told parents that an anticipated decline in sponsorship revenue could mean a significant increase in league fees.
“I’m not trying to fan any flames here, but I’m upset because the decisions are made in a vacuum,” he said. “When we got the note back from James Lander, it’s the end of the story. There is no other avenue for us. We have no real recourse there. That’s just the disturbing part.”
Photo, top, via AGSA. Photo, bottom, via Google Maps.