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ELRA seeks support from residents as number of participants climbs

Date: 4/20/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW -- The East Longmeadow Recreation Association (ELRA) wants residents to know the numbers.

Carolyn Porter, director of Recreation, listed some of these numbers at an ELRA meeting last Monday evening. Last year, there were 1,200 slots for soccer, 1,145 for Pine Knoll activities, 730 for winter basketball and 440 for spring baseball.

In fiscal year 2007 (FY07) there were 196 new slots created for Recreation Department-sponsored sports; in FY08, there were 396 new slots.

"There's not enough room to meet the need currently being quested [by sports teams]," Porter stated.

Representatives from various youth sports organizations echoed that sentiment.

Bob Holden, representing football, noted that 140 players have only two fields to play and practice on, and that they have to share those fields with the three high school teams.

John Ford, representing soccer, said his sport has the same amount of fields it did 20 years ago, with twice as many players.

Rob Mack, of the East Longmeadow Baseball Association, said the organization has been "a victim of Coach McGee's success," with 425 players being named to 35 teams, playing more than 500 games on the 30 diamonds in town -- which doesn't include the three high school teams and two tri-county teams.

Carolanne Elmendorf, representing field hockey, noted that her athletes play at Mapleshade, which has a field in "tough shape" and has three manhole covers in the playing area.

Michael Zuraw, speaking on behalf of lacrosse, added that that sport is facing the same problems.

All concurred -- more space and better maintained space is needed. The question was how these goals could be achieved.

ELRA met first in November 2008, with a goal of bringing together youth sports organizations to speak on the problems they've been facing and how to solve them. At the April 13 meeting, Friends of Heritage Park member Tina Kingston announced that her group, a 501(c)3 non-profit, would be willing to assist ELRA with its goal of gathering funds and applying for grants.

"We could help people get their ducks in a row," Kingston said. "We could act as consultants."

She added that ELRA is "looking for people to look at the bigger picture and step up and help out a little bit."

Porter noted that while youth recreation is the primary focus of the Recreation Department, the town supports recreation for all. ELRA is looking for those who have benefited from the town's recreation programs to step forward and help the organization maintain the fields currently being used and support the purchase of new land for recreation purposes.

Residents will once again be asked to support the purchase of land by the town at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for May 18.

ELRA will be meeting again on April 27 at the Pleasant View Senior Center. The meeting is open to all interested residents.