Blog: Sports Facilities: Keep People Out, or Let Them In?

I was waiting for a traffic light to turn the other day, and realized my car was right next to a high school. Sports facility geek that I am, I started counting the tennis courts (six), the ball fields (two) and staring at the big multisport field that sat in the middle of an all-weather track.

It all looked good until I realized that come September, some coaches were going to be really unhappy. A woman was walking on the running track, and was being tailed by one kid on a tricycle and another on a scooter. Over on one tennis court, a group was playing inline hockey. And just as the light changed and I had to drive on, I realized someone in the field in the center of the track was playing fetch with their dog. On the whole, it's just as well I was in a car and not outside, where I would have stood there staring and practicing some vigorous hand-wringing.

Don't get me wrong - I'm always glad to see kids out getting exercise, and adults encouraging them to do so. And I'm especially glad to see it in the summer, when the temptations of all-day Wii and Facebook and TV are strong.

Problem is, though, rubberized running tracks weren't meant to stand up to scooters and trikes. (Before you ask, athletic racing wheelchairs use a different type of tire). Tennis court surfacing wasn't designed with inline skate wheels in mind. And really - don't get me revved up again about dogs playing in athletic fields.

The great thing about facilities that are open for public use is just that - they're open for public use. Unfortunately, that also means they're subject to the abuse that people heap on them when there's nobody around to supervise. Sometimes, members of the general public are Public Enemy No. 1.

In early May came news of a high school that in opening its rubberized track to the public, also instituted rules regarding proper footwear, lane use and more, in the interest of keeping the track from becoming damaged or overly worn. While that school was able to have someone come out and supervise the track users, not all facilities have that ability, particularly not during the summer. Signage helps. So do regular visits by school personnel. Unfortunately, fences and gates that lock work well, but they also keep out the nice people who take the time to read the rules and abide by them.

With school and park budgets as tight as they are, it's imperative to keep sports facilities in good shape, since repairs can be expensive. Being proactive goes a long way toward holding the line on costs. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears.

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