BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Two competing youth soccer leagues continued their long-running battle for the use of Orangetown playing fields last week, as they mounted a two-hour debate at a Town Board workshop meeting.
Council members appeared as mystified after the debate as they have been in the months leading up to it, when the Orangetown Mighty Midgets and the Rockland Field Club began sparring over what they term the “fair use” of the limited number of soccer playing fields the town has available for public use.
Apparently soccer has taken over as the town’s number one sport, far surpassing baseball, basketball and football. The two leagues currently at battle enroll more than 4,000 local youth, not including the thousands more who play on public, private and parochial school teams and with the Gaelic Athletic Association, an Irish league which owns its own private fields in Orangeburg.
The remaining public fields are insufficient to handle the number of games and players generated by the town’s own parks and recreation department at the OMM and RFC leagues.
The disparity between field availability and demand is a problem Orangetown has been facing for the past few years, since soccer began mushrooming as the sport of choice about a decade ago.
“The situation now is how to make the best of what is already a good situation,” Supervisor Andy Stewart commented in opening the discussion at last week’s council workshop session. “We have three soccer leagues, and apparently not enough fields for all of them to play on, let alone recreational soccer not connected to any league.”
Tuesday’s debate led off with representatives from the Rockland Field Club, the newest and smallest of Orangetown’s three youth soccer leagues.
Dimitri Laddis began by displaying a large triangle he said represented youth soccer, with the largest portion, at the bottom, devoted to open play or recreational soccer. The next largest portion would be fields devoted to use by OMM’s recreational program, the next to RFC’s town travel teams and the smallest portion to OMM’s world class travel teams.
The goal, Laddis said, would be to “preserve the residency requirement, which is something that is strongly supported by the community and that protects the taxpayers and the town’s athletes.”
Additional goals, according to Laddis, would be to “carve a legitimate place for RFC that recognizes its contribution to the soccer community; carve a legitimate place for WCFC without the constraints of the current framework, with a formalized financial contribution to the recreation community; bringing the land use agreement (between Orangetown and the private leagues) up to speed to reflect the current operations at the soccer complex; leaving all elements unharmed and restoring peace.”
Laddis went on to tell the board that “open play” soccer does not currently exist in Orangetown because all of the fields are usually booked so far in advance by one league or the other that no vacant fields exist. He quickly added, however, that he believes enough fields exist to meet the needs of both leagues, and recreational use, if they were just distributed more fairly among all of the applicants.
He and other RFC officials also told the Town Board that their league is composed almost entirely of Orangetown children, exceeding 95 percent of their membership. OMM, on the other hand, has far less local players; meaning town taxpayers are subsidizing the use of town fields by residents from Clarkstown, Ramapo, New Jersey and other communities.
Next to speak were several officials from the Mighty Midgets. After some initial confusion over statistics and how residency was determined and measured, the league seemed to agree with figures presented by OMM executive board member Gordon Miller.
Miller said overall his league is comprised of youth, 82 percent of whom reside in Orangetown. Their Buddy Ball league, for handicapped youngsters, includes 61 percent from Orangetown and their elite World Class travel league includes 31 percent Orangetown residents.
Another league official, Patrick Taylor, claimed there aren’t enough soccer fields in Orangetown to accommodate the huge need, and urged the town to consider creating more such facilities, or requiring RFC to build fields of its own, as he said OMM did several years ago.
OMM spent over $2 million to develop the fields it now uses, Taylor said, raised by an unsecured mortgage from Provident Savings Bank. He said OMM is committed to continue raising funds and to continue improving the fields Orangetown allows it to use. If RFC wants similar fields, it should raise similar funds and create them themselves, just as OMM did, Taylor said, concluding that in his personal opinion there is no need for two soccer leagues in Orangetown, and that OMM with its 350 volunteers is well suited to continue what it has been providing to Orangetown for the past decade.
Miller concluded OMM’s presentation by outlining a new agreement he said the league is prepared to sign with Orangetown.
Under the proposed agreement OMM would assume all operating costs for all town soccer fields, at no cost to Orangetown. To meet that goal, the league will charge more tuition to families of students who do not reside in Orangetown. The league will also request the town drop the current requirement that 85 percent of league members be town residents to a lower figure of 60 percent, which he said would be “more realistic.”
The “meat” of the new agreement, however, would be a new clause regarding the use of existing soccer fields. If OMM is given the exclusive rights to all of the soccer fields at Veterans Memorial Park and the soccer complex across the street, it will give up all rights to use dirt and grass fields at Kennedy-Reidy Field and DeMeola Field. Both fields are owned by the South Orangetown School District and are leased by Orangetown for recreational use.
Under the new agreement, if it is ratified, those fields could be given to the RFC league for its exclusive use, Miller said.
Frank Payne, an OMM board member, said his league was also willing to discuss merging with the RFC to create one large “super” soccer league for Orangetown.
Officials from both OMM and RFC acknowledged during the presentations that they had indeed been discussing merger, but that nothing has come of that so far. After the meeting officials from those same leagues indicated that they were not holding their breaths that it would ever occur, given the level of animosity that now exists between them.
Encouraged by Town Board members, however, representatives from both leagues agreed to keep meeting and to keep negotiating, to see if they could come to any kind of agreement between themselves.