Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay met with student athletes, community members and other local officials Wednesday evening during a tour designed to promote improvements to Mount Vernon-area athletic fields and facilities.
The tour stemmed from a 400-person public meeting organized by VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) in June to push for more investment in youth recreation facilities and access to after-school programs for local youth.
The first stop was Muddy Hole Farm Park, where Ricky Hairston, general manager and head coach of the Fairfax County Colts, a youth football team that practices on the field, shared his concerns with the group.
“The field is severely sloped, so it needs to be graded and leveled,” Hairston said. “There are holes throughout the field, so when boys are running and practicing they step in the holes, twist ankles. I had five or seven kids that twisted their ankles and were out of games. The field has poison ivy patches throughout, so we always have to be conscious that we pull and use weed control.”
The field also has no goalposts. Also, Hairston said he would like to see a pavilion built where kids can take shelter during lightning storms.
The tour passed by the Audubon neighborhood, home to more than 1,000 low-income children and where VOICE proposes an athletic field be built. VOICE organizer Leah Tenorio said the next steps are to meet with McKay and representatives from the future Route 1 Costco, which backs up to the neighborhood, to determine whether an abandoned parking lot between the community and Costco could be used as an athletic facility.
The group also visited Mount Vernon Woods Park. Tenorio, who also works at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, said the field is the closest athletic field for children in Audubon. Last week, in conjunction with Fairfax County, Lee-Mount Vernon Soccer held a soccer registration and had more than 100 children sign up during two hours on one day.
The group has obtained permits to allow the soccer players to practice on the field at Mount Vernon Woods Park this fall, but the field needs to be lined and have goals for practice.
“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get some of the improvements done so they can play there this fall,” Tenorio said. “A mile is still a long way for them to walk, and we’re hoping we can continue to work to have a field closer to Audubon, but this is a great start.”
McKay also visited Mount Vernon High School, where student athletes urged local officials to install turf fields, which would reduce games cancelled due to rain and provide Mount Vernon students practice to play away games on turf or Bermuda grass fields at other schools. Students urged the passage of the $75 million Fairfax County Park Bond in November to help install turf fields at Mount Vernon and West Potomac High School.
McKay told community members that he grew up in area and played youth sports on the same fields he visited Wednesday evening.
“I’m infinitely aware of every square inch of these facilities,” McKay said. “And so what I’m seeing is, clearly, these were heavily used back in my childhood, and for years they haven’t been used, and they’ve been put into a basic maintenance position by the park authority, because we have limited funds.
“We’ve got to put it in where fields are being used, and now there seems to be a new demand for people to use these fields, so we have to come back in and make some improvements to them.”
For many years there were few small children in the community, and local residents asked the park authority to remove facilities from the parks, McKay said. “Now, we’re back to where we started, which is we want to use these again for fields, so what I see here is something that has gone full circle,” he said.
Fairfax County Park Authority board member Edward Batten, Lee District representative, told the crowd he knew there was a great need for quality sports fields in Mount Vernon.
“We know that there’s a greater need for maintaining the fields that we have, and we know that there is a greater need to provide folks like you with the best opportunity that you have to do the kinds of things you do, enjoy the kinds of fields that we should, and hopefully, will be able to bring you, and become more fit.”
He continued: “We are on your side. We do need to have you continue to provide us with the incentives, and that is the efforts that you make to help us to achieve the kind of partnerships that are needed to bring about the kinds of facilities and the participation on an ongoing basis that can and will be done.”
A future tour of West Potomac and Mount Vernon high schools involving Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland is being planned, VOICE organizers said.