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All thumbs up for city athletic fields

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Good for the players. Good for the coaches and volunteers. Good for the leagues. Good for the community. Good, perhaps, for the economy.

And, for its backers, good to go.

The project that turns 14 acres of city of Sequim land at its water reclamation site just north of Carrie Blake Park into athletic fields turned a proverbial corner this week.

City of Sequim leaders on Tuesday, May 11, gave the approval for Sequim Family Advocates, the group behind the project, to begin the project in earnest.

Seed money

That means raising enough funds to level the fields, seed the grass, build 50 parking spaces and more.

Craig Stevenson, one of the advocate group's board members, said this is a good partnership between city government and the community.

"It's an exciting time for us," Stevenson said, particularly after a year (2009) when the project was delayed.

"I'm glad we stuck with it."

With all major permits in place except a construction permit Stevenson said still is being resolved, the group now is looking for funding from private donors and, in particular, those in construction who would donate in-kind labor and/or materials to build the playfields.

Decades of benefits

The idea is pay a little now for a set of fields that will benefit the town - youths and adults, businesses and civic groups - for decades to come, Stevenson said.

"It's what we call a legacy project," Stevenson said.

"When this town pulls this off, it will be around for generations."

He said the group hopes to start construction by the end of the summer and that the project should take two to three months to complete.

Years in making

Stevenson said the project got started in earnest in October 2008, but the unease that youth sports coaches, volunteers and parents felt with the lack of field space had been building months before that.

In Sequim, youth sports are booming and have been for years.

Besides the myriad high school and middle school sports teams are a number of clubs that target youths:

• Sequim Junior Soccer teams fill fields during their spring and fall leagues, boasting up to 600 players - up from about 200 eight years ago.

• Sequim Little League packs their fields to the max, with several hundred hitting the diamonds each spring.

• The league added a "girls seniors" division this year and has an pansion project that will add another softball field to the James Silberhorn complex next year.

• The Sequim Wolfpack, a youth football organization that substitutes for the now-dissolved Wolfpups organization, figures to field three full teams to compete in a league spanning the North Olympic Peninsula.

• The Sequim NFL Flag league is going strong after two full seasons with more than 80 players.

• The Olympic Mountaineers, formerly a Port Angeles High School lacrosse team now turned club and open to Sequim players, started this season with resounding success with two dozen players on the inaugural roster.

Sequim still has players with summer baseball, senior softball and adult semi-pro football teams seeking fields to practice, plus fields are needed for camps and civic activities.

"That (growth) is great news for any town," Stevenson said, but it's a nightmare for those who run the nonprofit athletic groups. From 3 p.m. until dark, almost all the nearby athletic fields are full.

City approves

Sequim Family Advocates members approached city councilors with the idea of turning land watered by reclaimed water into a place for ball fields. And not just one or two: The 14 acres north of Carrie Blake Park can be home to six full soccer fields.

The beauty of the land is that it won't be only soccer fields, Stevenson said. Organizations like Sequim Junior Soccer have portable goals and equipment, so any group using the fields need only redraw boundaries.

The project includes a parking lot and bathrooms near the cell tower on the east end of the property.

Sequim Family Advocates got positive feedback from the city and the state Department of Ecology, two partners of the water reclamation land, from the beginning.

Labor and lucre

Some turnover in city staffing led the project to slow in 2009, Stevenson said, but beginning this week he and other advocate group members are asking local businesses and citizens to help fund the new playfields.

That may mean anything from cash donations to in-kind contributions such as labor to sponsoring patches of grass for certain dollar pledges.

Once built, the ball fields would be open to youths and adults. Sequim Family Advocates would serve as the coordinator for groups wishing to reserve the fields for play.

Other nonsporting groups could use the fields for festivals and celebrations, too.

"This is an approach modern cities use," Stevenson said.

City workers already water and mow the fields and that wouldn't change, Stevenson said.

He said the city could get an economic boom, too, because the playfields would be big enough to host tournaments.

Sequim Family Advocates' board of directors includes Stevenson, Kim Rosales, Jon Jack, Colleen Robinson and Dave Shreffler.

Map to proposed athletic field

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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