Girls-soccer program defends its use of Vernon Park as a practice field

 Nearly 40 girls between the ages of 5 and 11 have taken to the grass at Vernon Park to learn the game. The City suggested they move. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

Nearly 40 girls between the ages of 5 and 11 have taken to the grass at Vernon Park to learn the game. The City suggested they move. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

Days after telling NewsWorks that the City suggested his youth girls-soccer program move its practice field from central Germantown, Soccer Sisters United head coach Walter Stewart reiterated his reasons for wanting to stay at Monday night’s Friends of Vernon Park meeting.

Based on concerns that players would damage a rarely used baseball diamond and complaints from “at least one near neighbor [who says] soccer should not be played because it is a park,” East Germantown’s Waterview Recreation Center was an option.

That location was suggested by the Department of Parks and Recreation despite the fact that Waterview also has a baseball diamond.

“I’ve responded reasonably to the department’s suggestion, but have told them we do not want to leave Vernon Park,” said Stewart, who told meeting attendees that there’s a sense of security from the current location, into which volunteers have logged droves of hours for upkeep.

“It’s a nice draw for families in Germantown,” he continued. “I don’t think the program would survive.”

Yomi Awodesu, who invited SSU to the fields through his role at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center across Greene Street, noted the dearth of sports programs for neighborhood youth.

He said he has contacted the US Soccer Federation, asking whether it’d help repurpose a vacant lot as a soccer field; if that happens, Vernon Park would serve as an interim site.

The City stance

Barbara McCabe, a parks coodinator with the city department, said she was concerned that more people would start using the Germantown green space as a soccer field because of SSU’s precedent.

She said Parks and Recreation prefers the use of facilities intended for specific activities, and that Vernon Park is not a soccer pitch.

To that, Stewart said when the players leave, it is no longer a soccer field; nets are put away and it goes back to being a park.

Soccer support

Baptista Marrow, a parent with three daughters on the team, said she doesn’t believe they are endangering the field since it isn’t used for matches.

The Friends of Vernon Park group showed support for the players, coaches and parents.

“This program being here has definitely changed the esteem of the park,” said Angela Miles of Friends of Vernon Park.

SSU’s current permit to use the park ends on June 30, but Stewart plans to reapply for one when the program starts up again in the fall.

At least one hint that the program would be back surfaced.

“I don’t want to pull something out that’s a positive,” said McCabe.

Sarah E. Maceachern and Ryan A. Shellenberger are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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