Youth Sports

Petula Dvorak was spot on in her column today.

The Jackson Reed (formerly Wilson) baseball batting cage debacle, as it stands today, can only call into question the city’s commitment to youth sports. And, youth sports should be low-hanging fruit, an easy way to have a positive impact on many children’s lives, giving them something constructive to channel their energy and foster their development. I have been a champion for youth sports in the past and will continue to be on the Council.

On the batting cages, there clearly was a breakdown in communication and if key stakeholders had it to do over again, it likely would have played out differently. Now, the Department of Parks and Recreation, National Park Service, Jackson-Reed baseball, and other community leaders are talking and listening, and I am optimistic that lemonade can be made from last week’s lemons. The baseball community has laid out a proposal (the core of it can be found here) and if NPS and DPR can rally behind it, all involved can be commended for not getting dug in and looking for durable solutions. Time will tell. In my role as Ward 3 Councilmember, I would be committed to upfront communication and collaboration so episodes like this do not happen.

Dvorak also pointed to the challenges facing the Fort Dupont Ice Rink. We need more facilities to serve youth sports, not to threaten the viability of a particularly special one. Just three years ago, Neal Henderson, the long-time coach of the Fort Dupont Cannons, was the first African American inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. The rink introduces thousands of children to a set of sports they might otherwise only see on TV, with a mission to “establish self-esteem, a sense of purpose and to offer an incentive to excel academically.” Can the city really not find a way to ensure the full renovation and expansion of the Fort Dupont Ice Rink? It may not be in Ward 3, but on the Council I will be a passionate advocate for a city gem, Fort Dupont, which together with its neighbor the Nats Academy, makes a real difference for children across the city.

But the issue is bigger than the batting cages and Fort Dupont. As we make infrastructure investments, we need to look for opportunities to create and expand playing field space – there is a real shortage. And we need to ensure we are filling the needs of children (and adults) of all ages and genders. Moreover, we need to be open to new options such as skate parks and old ones such as bocce and shuffleboard.

And last, for a pet issue of mine. Years ago, Cindy Sherman, whose daughters are great hockey players, suggested that we need an indoor ice-skating rink in upper NW. She is right: Fort Dupont, Cabin John, and Ballston are great, but they are far and the demand for ice time always exceeds supply. Getting out on the ice is a sensational family activity, ironically perhaps even more so in the heat of summer. Access to ice time opens possibilities for kids of all ages, and local schools and colleges can benefit from access to a rink. The steady flow of patrons to a rink can also help support surrounding businesses.

When I spoke recently about the idea with folks from the Friendship Heights Alliance, a group focused on strengthening the Friendship Heights business district, they understood the potential benefits immediately. As we think about planning the upper NW corridors, let’s put finding a home for an indoor ice-skating rink on our list of opportunities. Getting an indoor ice rink in upper NW has been on my “to do” list since Cindy raised it many moons ago. On the Council, it will remain on that list, but I will be in a better position to make it a reality.

The Fort Dupont Cannons are great, but I bet they are itching for more great teams to play.

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