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Stoddert Soccer League Feels Squeezed by DPR

The league struggled to get the amount of playing time on public fields that it wanted.

Nick Keenan, the chairman of the board at DC Stoddert Soccer, sent a rallying cry to parents recently asking them to testify and file complaints about insufficient field times distributed by the Department of Park and Recreation (DPR).

DPR's Director Jesús Aguirre fired back in a letter, obtained by The Washington Post, that one league cannot have all of the field time and that limited resources have to be shared.

But Keenan told Patch in an interview Wednesday that Aguirre's letter was far from an explanation or a solution.

“I would say the letter ranges between deceptive and lying,” said Keenan.

When Keenan first wrote to parents, he told them Stoddert was denied many of the permits the league applied for and the fall soccer season was on the line.

The league did manage to get several permits approved:

"After intense wrangling we managed to claw back a little bit of time - one hour a week at Stoddert, a little at Palisades and Carter Barron, some time at Hardy and Hearst - but nothing near what we have had in past years, and nothing near what we need to run soccer programs for your children.

But Aguirre argued that DPR has had increased demand and he denied that Stoddert was at a disadvantage.

"Stoddert has, in fact, received the majority of permitted time on most of the fields you are using, and in some cases up to 100% of the permitted time outside of the school day," wrote Aguirre.

Stoddert had the backing of Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, in whose ward many of the field in question are located, and Councilman Tommy Wells, who is the chairman of the committee with DPR oversight.

Despite that support, Keenan said the field time Stoddert was given was "garbage time," like night slots on fields without lights. Keenan said the the real dispute is over after-school time, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. or so. 

"Basically what they did this year, is they decide that Stoddert soccer was not going to get the after-school times at any of the upper northwest fields that we have traditionally used," said Keenan.

The "major policy shift" on field use was a surprise to Stoddert, said Keenan.

He said there had been competing demand in past years for more field space and that they had been complaining about not getting enough time.

Keenan said he felt that what happened this year was a "retaliation" for complaining in the past.

"The initial permits that we got included no afternoon time at any one of the upper northwest fields that we use. That was huge," he said.

In his letter, Aguirre however said that Stoddert was asking for too much time during the prime hours.

"It is simply not possible –nor appropriate – for a single private group to monopolize so much public field space, no matter how worthy the program or activity," he wrote.

Keenan acknowledged that there were other competing demands for field time, but also said DPR was not doing a good job balancing the merit of those programs.

Stoddert has some 6,000 players. For comparison, Keenan said Stoddert has 60 teams, about 800 players, in the Palisades area. The Lab School in the Palisades has a total enrollment of about 350 and not all of those kids play on a team.

"We got no afternoons at Palisades field this year. Lab School got that time. Numerically, it's just stunning," said Keenan.

He worries about the future of the league and about the personal nature of the exchange between himself and DPR.

"I'm not going to have a war of letters with him," said Keenan about Aguirre.

And Aguirre concluded that such demands and conflicts would only continue to increase.

While he's not sure what the outcome will be, Keenan plans to testify at the District Council Thursday and hopes that a more transparent system can be the result.

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