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Soccer in Waterloo matters...

Canuck Oranje

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Just wanted to pass on a series of articles in the Record here.. I thought I would post because it does have a happy ending and it probably could happen anywhere.

Also the media in this case sided with the players in this story..

Again the Record does not give public access to stories on the web so using my subscription I have taken the liberty to post here.

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Weekend players get boot


WATERLOO (Aug 6, 2003)

A group of soccer lovers who get together weekend evenings for an informal game or two has been booted off the fields in Waterloo Park.

The players -- who often include men and women, kids and seniors -- are not members of a club, do not play in a league, do not wear uniforms and usually don't keep score, said Daming Yao, 32, who has joined in the pickup games for the past three years.

"If a club team is playing, we get off," Yao said of the field near the Seagram Drive entrance to the park.

There is one other "multi-purpose" sports field at Waterloo Park, as well as four ball diamonds and a cricket pitch.

Last Friday evening, a uniformed officer turned up and ordered the players off, because "we weren't registered," Yao said. He said he wasn't sure whether it was a police officer, a bylaw enforcement officer or a security official.

"He was wearing a bullet-proof vest and equipment on his waist," said Yao, who studies at the University of Waterloo and lives across the street from the park. "He looked like a policeman."


The players argued with the officer, saying they'd played for many summers without a problem. But not only were they ordered off, they were also told not to return unless they registered with the City of Waterloo.

Brian Detzler, director of recreation and leisure services for Waterloo, said the players seemed too "structured" to be considered informal and therefore would have to pay a fee to use the field.

"Typically, if it's very casual use, unorganized shall we say, with only a few people per side throwing or kicking a ball, or throwing a frisbee around, we're not going to bother them," Detzler said yesterday.

"But if people are wearing jerseys, and have a referee and it's up to 25 people, we approach them and ask them to make a reservation for the field and pay the fee."

Waterloo charges $28.70 an hour for use of a field. The ball diamonds are charged at the same rate, with a flat fee of $15.40 added if floodlights are required.

When told the informal group, which sometimes has as many as 25 players, doesn't have uniforms or keep score, Detzler was skeptical. "They play every weekend," he said. "It sounds pretty structured to me."

And if the group has been playing for free, if informally, for years, it may be because his staff hadn't got round to checking Waterloo Park, Detzler said.

It's not that Waterloo is suddenly cracking down on casual users of "pay-for-use" fields, he added.

"We've been doing this for several years," Detzler said.

Recently, Waterloo cracked down on residents informally using soccer fields at Bechtel Park in the University Avenue East area. Complaints from soccer clubs prompted city officials to mow a natural area of the park so that casual players could use it. This upset some neighbours, who saw wildlife destroyed by the mowers.

The fees Waterloo charges are necessary to maintain sports fields, Detzler said. The fields require frequent mowing, aeration, fertilizing, topsoil dressing and over-seeding. Lines are painted and the goal nets are provided by the city.

Waterloo's revenue from its 30 outdoor multi-purpose sports fields amounts to about $250,000 a year, Detzler said.

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Soccer dispute needs a referee

(Aug 7, 2003)

The ball is out of play for a group of soccer enthusiasts after the City of Waterloo blew the whistle on their weekend games. While it is unknown whether the city will let the group kick off again, it is clear that the city and the players need to sit down and determine whether a foul was actually committed.

The group of soccer players in question often meets on weekends for an informal match. The players, who include men, women, children and seniors, aren't part of a club or league and often don't even keep score. But last Friday, a uniformed official ordered them off the Waterloo Park field and told them to register with the city. In the city's defence, Brian Detzler, director of recreation and leisure services, says that a casual use, with only a few people per side throwing or kicking a ball, is acceptable. But, he said, these players seemed too "structured" to be considered informal and should pay a fee to use the field.

Without more information, it's hard to make a ruling, though we sympathize with the players who were ordered to end their game of pickup soccer. No one can take issue with people engaging in a wholesome and fun activity that increases their physical fitness. And city parks are supported by tax dollars, ostensibly for the public to use. On the other hand, organized sports associations pay significant fees to offset the costs of maintaining the grass, markings and goals for a game such as soccer.

The dispute here is essentially about whether this group of soccer players is "organized." But there is the larger issue of access to our public parks. How often can a group meet for a game of soccer -- or lacrosse, cricket or softball -- before they are considered "organized" and subject to fees? Groups who pay fees to reserve playing fields benefit from a guaranteed spot and time for their game. And at a rate of $28.70 per hour, the cost can be minimal if a number of people are playing. Those who don't book a field must take what's available. If a scheduled game is on, they are out of luck. If another informal group is playing, they can wait until that group is finished or ask to join the fun.

While the city must ensure that fields are kept in good shape for those who pay for playing time, it clearly must also leave an option for casual players who don't belong to leagues but still love the thrill of kicking or throwing or batting a ball around in the great outdoors. If a field is suffering too much wear and tear, the city can close it off until the grass can recover. And no single group, informal as it may be, should monopolize a particular patch of turf.

In this case, before the city hands this group a game-ending penalty, it should hear what the players and other citizens have to say. And it should not stop this group or any other unless it is convinced that they constitute an organized team. Beyond this, the city should clarify its rules on pickup games and also ensure that citizens have some space where they can participate in an impromptu game of soccer or ball. It's only fair play.

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Soccer players get apology, free access to Waterloo park

WATERLOO (Aug 9, 2003)

City officials apologized yesterday to one of two groups of soccer players recently booted out of Waterloo Park, and said that such casual sports groups will be able to play in the park free of charge.

Eight to 10 friends were playing a noon-hour game of soccer on Wednesday when a city employee told them to leave the park, citing a bylaw that requires sports teams to register and pay a fee for use of the fields. The players -- most of them colleagues from Wilfrid Laurier University -- had been playing casual games of "pickup" soccer on the fields for three summers.

The Record recently reported on a similar group of recreational players who were kicked out of the park last Friday night.

When the group of friends from WLU returned for a game yesterday, Brian Detzler, the city's director of parks and recreation, came to apologize for the incident and told them they could keep playing there.

Detzler said that, having seen the players in action, he was convinced they did not make up a structured league or team, and therefore did not have to pay for use of the field.

"From what I saw it was casual use by . . . a group of people getting together to kick a ball around," he said.

Formal teams and leagues -- those that have uniforms, referees and a larger number of players -- must pay a fee of $28.70 per hour, he said.

The fee ensures that registered teams get exclusive use of fields during reserved time slots. Unregistered players using the fields have to leave if registered teams show up.

Detzler has not yet seen or talked to the group that was told to leave the field last Friday, but says he and his staff will be diligent in distinguishing between formal and informal games.

Stephen Preece, one of the players from the WLU group, said Detzler's "goodwill gesture" was the right thing to do.

"It's great that they're making concessions."

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Common sense takes a holiday in soccer field fiasco


(Aug 11, 2003)

When I was a snotty-nosed guttersnipe growing up in England, playing soccer was one of the few things more enjoyable than playing truant.

Depending on frequency, punishment for skipping school included everything from writing 500 lines -- "I will not play truant, I will not play truant, I will not play . . ." -- to polishing school laboratory benches or being caned by Mr. Webb, the headmaster we called SpiderMan or The Boss.

Now, 45 years later in Waterloo Region, we've progressed to the point where we drag troubled kids into court and send them to jail or group homes for repeated truancy.

One of my caning experiences took place because of a combination of truancy and soccer after I was caught skipping classes with a gang of kids so we could attend a Wednesday-afternoon game as the professional team in our town headed for the equivalent of the Stanley Cup.

This obsession with soccer -- known as football in England -- involved dedicating every available childhood moment to the game.

Day and night we made goalposts with discarded jackets and shredded our shoes as we booted everything from stones, tin cans and tennis balls around streets, parking lots, church halls, playgrounds and parks. I remember one street game where the neighbourhood cop stopped, got off his bike, removed his bobby helmet and, for a few minutes, played goalkeeper.

Summer or winter we savoured every opportunity to play soccer and I recall games in fog that was so thick you sometimes lost sight of the ball and couldn't see the makeshift goals.

There were even times when we played with an actual soccer ball on a real pitch complete with goalposts. Sometimes, two or three groups would participate in separate games on the same pitch, one clustered around each goalpost and a third at the halfway line.

Now, 45 years later in Waterloo Park, we've progressed to the point where uniformed bylaw officers recently stopped two informal soccer games enjoyed by groups of eight to 30 men, women, kids and seniors.

Even though players who take part in the pickup games vacate fields when organized teams arrive, officers said they could face trespass charges if they didn't quit such criminal activity.

Players -- many of them new Canadians -- who don't even keep score were instructed to register with the city and pay $28.70 an hour if they want to use soccer fields.

Now, after some embarrassing publicity, Waterloo recreation director Brian Detzler is reviewing the absurd situation. He has told one group of soccer enthusiasts they can continue to play and plans to take a second look at the other pickup game.

Whether it's truancy or soccer, you have to wonder what happened to common sense and legislative discretion.

By all means use truancy laws to bring kids to court if that's the only way to get them into a system that provides necessary support services but, because jail is no deterrent for truancy, don't incarcerate children for behavioural problems.

And as Waterloo officials review the bewildering soccer regulations, I have a suggestion.

The city should bolt pay-and-display machines to goalposts for any dribbling soccer hooligans audacious enough to kick balls around parks.

Troublemakers who dare to have a little fun will then pay fees established by city bureaucrats trying to recover some of the millions they wasted on the RIM Park financial disaster.

Players who don't paste and display stickers on their soccer balls should then be charged by Waterloo's squad of whistle-blowing bylaw enforcers.

They will be the guys wearing camouflage gear hiding in park bushes near the soccer fields.

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Waterloo official scores soccer points

(Aug 12, 2003)

The city of Waterloo's recreation director has kicked the ball in a direction that should help to end a spat between the city and some soccer players who like to use a public park.

Brian Detzler, the director of parks and recreation, personally apologized late last week to a group of soccer enthusiasts who had been ordered to leave a soccer pitch in Waterloo Park. Detzler told them they could keep on playing.

A city official had previously told them that sports teams had to register and pay a fee for the use of a sports field. The city's initial position was unduly aggressive. The city's policy gives it the right to charge a user fee to organized groups that book the field, but the players who were booted off were hardly organized. As Detzler acknowledged, their game resembled a "group of people getting together to kick a ball around."

Charging a special fee when people show up with only the hope that they can play is unreasonable. The prime benefit that comes with paying a fee is the right to reserve. Unorganized groups, playing without set teams, referees and scorekeepers are not in that category. They are more like a couple of kids tossing a ball or a Frisbee.

Whatever prompted the crackdown on the use of the park, the policy was damaging the city's image. Detzler's diplomatic action was a necessary corrective measure. At the time Detzler was mending fences with the soccer players, he had not had a chance to check out another group that had also been told to get off a sports field at the park. Given that the other group also appears to be informally organized, an apology would also seem appropriate.

The sooner the recreation department puts this interruption in play behind it, the better it will be for both the city and the soccer players. Detzler and his department have made a good start in moving on.

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