Of all the topics under discussion in Lamorinda at any given time few seem to inspire such heated debate as our kids and the sports fields we send them out to play on.
With competition for everything -- scholarships, playing time, field rentals, bragging rights -- greater than ever and with money creeping into the equation perhaps it is to be expected that questions, and eyebrows, are being raised.
Readers will note assertions made in our comments threads of backroom deals between the heads of any one of several Lamorinda sports clubs or camps and cash-strapped city governments presumably swayed by big money offered in shady "pay to play" agreements.
For the record, we haven't seen any of these backroom shenanigans we keep hearing about, but we have seen parents with envelopes stuffed with cash or checks lining up to pay the coaches of "not for profit" teams or camps at the end of a season and the money -- both for field rentals and some camps -- can be substantial. Camps hosting dozens if not hundreds of kids and charging as much as $280 per day per kid have sprouted on any pitch willing to host them, with additional charges added to the day rate for special coaching sessions and other frills.
With the level of competition we mentioned in play in an area where residents are used to playing hard and winning, it comes as little surprise that the scenario has given rise to suspicion and some not-always-sportsmanlike double dealing. We've received calls of favoritism, obstructionism, and outright deception in dealings with fields at Wilder, Buckeye Fields, Rancho Laguna Park, and other chalked and striped pitches of green around town. A youth rugby league received a black eye recently when a Martinez team was accused of paying NFL-like bounties for hits on a rival Lamorinda player. Some Moragans allege a move to ban off-leash dog hours at Rancho Laguna is the first step in an effort to turn the park into the area's latest dedicated "sports complex" and while evidence exists to the contrary, many continue to believe it to be true.
What is true is that any new fields coming online in Lamorinda are proving to be hot properties, indeed. Five new fields at the Wilder development in Orinda sparked heated debate and behind the scenes accusations after insurance issues delayed their availability. Several youth sports leagues and camps immediately expressed their interest in the fields, and have already announced scheduled games or camps on them -- and demand does not seem to be letting up.
Youth league organizers have openly stated their willingness to pay for the privilege of playing on local fields in open public meetings. And while few will dispute that keeping kids happy and involved with sports is a good thing some malodorous byproducts of this sports "land rush" have begun to emerge.
With the proliferation of sports teams and relative lack of available space for them to train and play on, some camps and leagues are going to extreme lengths to distinguish themselves from others -- incorporating elements that make them more attractive to youthful participants but also more likely to rub anyone unlucky enough to live near such a camp the wrong way. Patch was present recently when the operator of one such facility publicly stated that his organization had received no complaints or calls of community opposition to local sporting events he was holding -- a statement we knew to be false and a position which was countered by city officials who averred that the opposite was actually true.
Yes, our little slice of the world is lucky to have such issues to worry about when other, similar areas worry about feeding their people or providing basic services, but the depth of passion on the issue runs deep and does not appear to be going away anytime soon.