Letter to the Editor: Youth sports group says Dare County children deserve better
Published 6:27 am Thursday, November 10, 2022
To the Editor: with
It is no secret that the population of Dare County, particularly young families with school-age children, has been rising at substantial rates over the past several years. A recent article in the Nighthawk News, the First Flight High School Newspaper, notes the
growth of the student population at the high school, which is currently almost double the expected rate when the school was built in 2004. The incoming Freshman class came in with 300 kids, and that number is expected to continue growing each year. The 2023 graduating class is at a healthy 223.
Remote work, Covid, and affordable lending rates have all attributed to some of the population spikes that we have seen in the past few years in Dare County. With the schools working to accommodate the needs of the influx of new residents, there is still one major piece of the puzzle that has been swept under the rug – green spaces and fields for local children to participate in sports, pick-up games, organized activities, and so much more.
Our Parks & Recreation department does their best to provide sports programs across many different offerings, including gymnastics, football, lacrosse, soccer, softball, t-ball, basketball, and quidditch, only to name a few. Unfortunately, since the inception of Parks and Rec for Dare County, the buildings, fields, dugouts, green spaces, and indoor gyms have not been included in County budgets for upgrades, expansions, or even much needed maintenance upgrades. How can one of the wealthiest counties in North Carolina not be able to provide adequate recreation facilities for its residents?
With our schools seeing record numbers of attendance, can you imagine what our sports programs are experiencing trying to serve a constantly growing youth sports community with the same limited field space and facilities that were built for the population size that existed 20 years ago?
Dare County is without consistent space to accommodate all sports and is without fields that can handle the near-constant demand by its citizens. Dare County manages field use for OBYSA (Outer Banks Youth Soccer Association), OBX Storm, and several adult leagues, and as of recently, they also control all use of the First Flight Middle School fields.
Satterfield Landing is the only dedicated soccer complex in Dare County. It has multiple fields and lights for night play; however, these fields are only open for use about half of the year. Satterfield will close from mid-November through March to hundreds of children and adults looking to play soccer, lacrosse, or just run around the field. This required “rest time” of the fields is to allow for re-seeding, fertilizing, and maintenance due to the wear and tear the grass fields take during the open periods. During this time, any use of the fields is prohibited, and residents, tourists, and local sports teams are once again left without field space to practice and play. This rest time cycles twice a year (May through September) and impacts hundreds of youths who would much prefer playing sports than video games but have nowhere to go.
The Satterfield Complex was opened in September 2022 and is preparing to close again in mid-November. The complex was available for use by the community for, at most, three months in 2022. This is wholly inadequate for a county boasting the wealth and tax dollars ours does. In the last year we have seen numerous new pickleball courts being planned/installed and outdoor courts are being upgraded, yet much needed upgrades to our field space have been put off until almost 2030.
Consistent field space has long been a problem here, and many have attempted change in the past, to no avail. In March of 2022, a proposal was given to the current Dare County Board of Commissioners to begin the process of updating these aging structures by adding more consistent green space to meet the ever-growing needs of this community. One specific request was to turf the fields at Satterfield Landing in Nags Head. Turfing these fields would completely eliminate field rest times, and significantly lower the maintenance and upkeep costs. The consistent field space would allow local clubs to host tournaments, which would increase tourism in the shoulder seasons and allow a reliable space for teams to hold practices.
Included in the presentation in March 2022 was a quote provided by a US-based turf company. The Commissioners were optimistic and expressed a desire to move forward with the turf project as presented – as long as the official quote was within a specific price range. Once all of the quotes were collected, the final total was $200-400,000.00 more than expected. Once the presenters learned of the overage, a second proposal was submitted immediately with substantial and obtainable plans for grants, fundraising, and potential community and town financial support to bridge the gap in cost – multiple grants had deadlines but were guaranteed sources of significant funds that would certainly bridge the gap. However, without explanation and without a single response, the proposal was ignored. Instead, Commissioners moved forward with a plan to add lights fields that are in severe disrepair behind First Flight Middle School.
Recently, Dare County released an improvement plan which suggests improvements to Satterfield may begin in 2028. 2028. This is not solving the current green space issues for the youth of our community. Once Parks and Rec closes the fields in November, youth soccer clubs have no fields on which to practice. Outdoor sports do not stop just because the fields need to rest for 4+ months. The need for consistent green space is constantly growing and will only continue to increase through 2028. Just imagine how inadequate the facilities and fields will be in another 6 years!
These initiatives are directly in line with the overall plans and initiatives of the Dare County Commissioners – to keep our youth active and away from temptations, like drug use. The Dare County Community Health Needs Assessment Reports consistently list mental health and substance abuse as two of three top priority areas in our community. Countless studies have shown the significant and positive impact exercise and sports, especially team sports, have on mental health and reducing substance abuse, most notably in school-age children.
At a time when Dare County has collected record taxes and sits on budget surpluses, we as a community need to speak up and let the Dare County Commissioners know that our children need to come first. We can either invest in green space, turf, fields, and recreation facilities now, or drug programs and rehab centers in the future. Our community’s most important asset is our youth population, and the most impactful use of our surplus is providing an outlet for them to be involved in a consistent youth sports community. Please keep the priorities of the candidates in mind when you visit the polls, and no matter the outcome in November, please reach out to our Dare County Commissioners and let them know how you would like Dare County’s tax dollars to be spent.
Youth Sports Alliance