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Youth leagues relieved to keep playing at YMCA

Representatives from Encinitas Express Soccer and Encinitas Little League this week expressed relief over a compromise that will keep them playing at the YMCA Ecke Sports Park.

Still, each league will have field challenges ahead.

Last week, the Magdalena Ecke YMCA announced that its board approved a draft expansion plan that will leave three of the four park fields for league play. That was good news for the leagues’ officials, who feared that they could lose two or more of the fields.

“It will allow us to achieve two things that we wanted: playing under lights and keeping the league largely together, at where we’ve historically been,” said Robert Wade, league president.

The YMCA stated last fall it would need “one or more” of the fields for expansion.

Around the same time, it came to light that the Encinitas City Council previously approved a new clause that would let the YMCA cancel the field lease with 30 days’ notice. League officials then became concerned they could be displaced with little warning.

The YMCA owns the fields, while the city leases and maintains them.

Little League, however, will have to make sacrifices under the expansion plans. Its junior program, 13- and 14-year-olds, plays on Field No. 1, which is slated to become three indoor soccer arenas and a parking lot with up to 180 spaces.

With few other options, the junior program is likely to move to the new Encinitas Community Park. Wade emphasized that in order to play there, new maintenance equipment, batting cages, fencing and reconfigured dugouts are necessary.

Wade anticipates the league — a nonprofit with a limited budget — will have to pay for most of the costs.

“The big issue for us is equipment,” he said. “We have one set of equipment that we’re able to use, which will change. And operations behind the scenes won’t be so simple.”

Wade said while the junior program could play at the park, the entire league wouldn’t be able to move there without downsizing, largely because of the lack of nighttime lighting.

While challenges await, Wade said he’s glad that the YMCA’s plans are similar to a compromise that the league pitched last month.

The league proposed to give up Field No. 1 in exchange for the YMCA ensuring that the league could stay on the fields through at least 2024.

Wade said the next step for the league is to secure a deal that would keep the YMCA as its permanent home.

“We hope we move into that conversation soon,” he said.

Susan Hight, executive director of the YMCA, sent a letter to the city last week outlining the YMCA’s plans.

“We believe this plan will benefit the entire community for years to come,” Hight wrote.

Notably, Field No. 2 will remain the same, according to the letter. Fields No. 3 and 4 will be converted into turfed multi-sports fields that can accommodate Little League, Encinitas Express Soccer and others.

Hight said the YMCA will launch a fundraising campaign for expansion improvements in the fall and keep the leagues in the loop regarding future construction plans.

The letter also states that the YMCA will eventually cancel the city’s lease of the fields. Hight did not respond to a request for a phone interview.

“It is the intent of the Y to give the city of Encinitas ample notice before terminating the lease,” the letter states. It continues:

“We understand the scheduling needs of the city leagues to plan ahead for their seasons and will be mindful of allowing them time to transition to their new schedules,” Hight wrote. “To date, they have been assured all fields will remain available through 2015. It is also our goal to keep all the current schedules intact until the start of construction.”

Encinitas Express President Rick Lochner said he’s glad the YMCA didn’t take more than one field. But, he added, the plan will still mean the league loses almost half its practice time at the sports park.

“It’s a significant negative impact,” Lochner said.

To make up for the loss, Encinitas Express officials have advocated for artificial turf and permanent field lighting at Leo Mullen Sports Park, another location they play.

Leo Mullen Sports Park is prone to closures because of worn-out grass and flooding.

The Encinitas City Council is due to consider funding turf and lighting at Leo Mullen Sports Park during upcoming budget meetings.

“We hope that they turf Mullen and provide lights,” Lochner said. “If they do, we’re in good shape. If they don’t, we’re in bad shape.”

Lochner said the uncertainty of the field situation is tough, because scheduling is done so far in advance.

“You can’t make commitments for your program if you can’t predict what your field situation will be,” Lochner said. “Right now, we have a lot of uncertainty.”


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