District Sports, a DC non-profit soccer league that started in 2004 and has since grown to more than 5,000 participants, attributes its growth and success to its ability to rely on DC public schools for recreational space. But they still face challenges in sharing space, as do many sports organizations.
“Virtually 100 percent of our livelihood depends on our ability to use school spaces,” said Alex Bearman, Executive Director of District Sports. “We’d be able to serve less than half the amount of people we serve now if using DC public schools was not an option.”
Bearman has made a great investment of time working with schools in order to reserve their space. Through an involved process of diligent follow up, relationship building, knowing people at the schools, working with other nonprofits, and developing a reputation, he has made inroads.
There remains immense room for improvement. District Sports believes maintenance is a critically important aspect of the process that needs to be changed. In the permitting process, community organizations must pay additional fees to cover costs to the schools for security and custodial services after hours, however currently there is no funding for schools to recoup costs for normal wear and tear due to use by a community group. Requests from organizations may be denied for this reason. “It’s very difficult to approach a school for a request when my group would degrade the field,” Bearman said.
Some smaller organizations also struggle with the high cost of permit fees and with carrying the required amount of insurance. As a larger, more established organization, Bearman acknowledges that District Sports is in a better position than many to form partnerships that allow them to give back to the schools where they play. District Sports has even partnered with a smaller volleyball group to help them get a shared use agreement, because this group was struggling to reserve the space on their own.
A potential policy solution would be to create a fund to help offset these expenses for schools and groups, in addition to the cost of additional security and custodial services.
Without access to ‘playing space’ for many community-based organizations and sports teams, the opportunity for physical activity evaporates. Physical activity has been proven a critical component for a healthy life, especially in controlling obesity. And the District has uniquely urgent demographics that impact this need, particularly the most underserved Wards.
A District-wide Shared Use policy provides answers. Schools are an ideal place for individuals, organizations, and the community to gather for recreation, either organized or informal. But in many cases, schools do not allow their recreation facilities to be used during non-school hours. Easing the process of establishing “shared use” or “facility use” agreements would provide much needed access to school recreational facilities.
Anyone who agrees with this effort can support the cause by sending a constituent’s letter to the DC Council.