The “One View” of the first public meeting regarding Lindberg Park future planning published in last week’s Wednesday Journal unfairly characterized some local soccer organizations as a “lobby” for a “narrow special interest” [It’s soccer vs. trees at Lindberg Park meeting, Viewpoints, Oct. 6] I am the head of the Oak Park American Youth Soccer Organization and I attended that meeting. We are not lobbyists, but we do have a special interest. However, it is not narrow. It is all the families of Oak Park looking for active recreational opportunities.
Our volunteers over the last 25 years have spent tens of thousands of hours providing quality physical recreation to the children of Oak Park (and beyond). In this age of “screen culture” and rampant obesity, we feel that we, along with our park district and all of the other sports organizations in the community, are providing a valuable public health service.
One of our guiding principles is “open registration,” which means there are no tryouts or skill requirements; any child who registers is placed on a team. But this is true only to the extent we have enough fields and, while we had over 2,200 players this year, we had to turn away players.
The soccer fields at Lindberg Park are also used by Strikers Soccer, as well as multiple teams from both Ascension and St. Giles, and teams from OPRF and park district programs. And Lindberg Park, of course, is just one of many parks in Oak Park whose athletic fields are shared with a variety of other park district programs and other organizations offering other sports, including baseball, football, lacrosse and field hockey to name a few. Led by our park district, with which AYSO and other local sports organizations are officially “affiliated,” we need to find a way to maximize the available active recreation space while balancing the other needs of the community for open space, passive recreation and, yes, trees.
Lindberg Park is designed with separate zones for passive recreation and active recreation. In last week’s “One View,” we were accused of wanting to “exploit” Lindberg Park to hold soccer games. We plead guilty! Isn’t that the whole point of the active recreation space? We don’t want to impact the passive zone. We simply want to improve the active recreation zone to increase the capacity for such activities in order to help alleviate the shortage of space in Oak Park for active recreation of all kinds — for both children and adults.
With little extra space available in Oak Park, the logical way to increase field capacity is to have fields that can hold up in bad weather and that can be used even after the sun goes down early. One good way to do this is to join the many communities in the area whose park districts have built quality synthetic turf fields with lights. We believe Oak Park should have at least one facility comparable to the one we have been renting from the Berwyn Park District at 37th and Scoville.
The many benefits of organized youth sports would not seem subject to serious debate. They promote a lifetime interest in fitness, team work, commitment, responsibility, sportsmanship, competitiveness, social skills and self-confidence, while occupying kids who might otherwise stray to less desirable activities like alcohol and drug use. I believe the kids of today and tomorrow and their families deserve the most usable athletic fields we can give them.
Dan Jordan is the regional commissioner of Oak Park AYSO. He has lived in Oak Park near Lindberg Park with his wife and four kids for 12 years.