Turf battle emerges among Montgomery County youth soccer groups -- Gazette.Net


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A Montgomery County youth soccer organization is suing the county’s school board, claiming the board unfairly struck agreements with other groups for the use of two artificial turf fields at schools.

Montgomery Soccer Inc. filed the suit July 1 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

In a July 22 letter to the County Council, the group’s executive director, Doug Schuessler, said the school board decided which organizations would use the turf fields at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville and Winston Churchill High School in Potomac “through a flawed and unlawful process.”

The board, the letter said, did not consider the different submissions but rather approved a recommendation and did not share how the submissions were evaluated based on a point system.

In addition to the lawsuit, the organization appealed to the state Board of Education, according to the letter.

The Bethesda Soccer Club was awarded the use of the Richard Montgomery field and Bethesda Lacrosse and the Potomac Soccer Association were awarded the use of the Churchill field.

The school board recently awarded Montgomery Soccer the field-use agreement for Gaithersburg High School’s field.

Schuessler said in an interview he thinks his group should have been awarded the Richard Montgomery and Churchill field agreements because it serves a broader group of players around the county, including more economically disadvantaged youth, in more than 900 teams.

“If it’s about social services, we had a better proposal,” he said.

The letter to the council said the school board awarded the agreements “to elite clubs that serve only a limited fraction — the wealthiest — of the County’s youth.”

Brian Edwards, a county school system spokesman, said school officials will address specifics in its response to the lawsuit.

“We find the allegations come without merit and we’ll demonstrate that through the court case,” he said.

According to Schuessler’s letter, the school system indicated in its request for proposals for each field that a selection committee would use a point system to determine which submission would be selected. The factors considered in the point system as shown in the letter included the organization’s vision, community benefits, references, personnel and financial offer.

Schuessler said his organization doesn’t think the selection committee used the point system.

A school official told Montgomery Soccer in a phone call in March that it had been awarded the agreement, but the group later received an email saying that it had not been selected, he said.

After Montgomery Soccer protested the decision, the organizations were given the chance to re-enter their submissions and Bethesda Soccer Club was selected a second time.

The letter said that school officials told the organization during a meeting that the school system had received another, better offer for the Churchill field and would not talk about Montgomery Soccer’s proposal.

Schuessler said the school officials defined the other bid “in financial terms only.”

Greg Dillon, president of Bethesda Soccer Club, said he saw no evidence of the rules being broken.

“I feel that our submission complied with the requirements of the requests for proposal and I don’t see any reason for the school system to overturn it,” Dillon said.

Bethesda Soccer Club — which also holds field-use agreements at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda and Thomas S. Wootton High in Rockville — serves about 1,000 players in more than 70 teams in the county, he said.

“And, you know, they are not all elite and wealthy players,” he said.

He said the club offers scholarships to low-income families.

In a July 23 letter to the County Council, Potomac Soccer Association leaders said the organization expects to have more than 600 members from around the county in 50 teams in the fall.

“Our players and families come from all socio economic categories and no child is ever precluded from participating based on financial need or condition,” the letter states.

An email seeking comment from Bethesda Lacrosse’s leadership was not answered.

The County Council was set to vote Tuesday on an appropriation to build the Churchill field, but dropped the resolution in response to a request from the school board.

“Our lawyers thought it would be best to hold off on action at this time because of the pending litigation,” Dana Tofig, a school system spokesman, said in an email.

Council President and Education Committee Chairman Craig L. Rice said Monday after the education committee discussed the appropriation that he had not looked at the facts of the Montgomery Soccer case and could not comment on it.

However, by no means is the county going to stop building fields that serve students, said Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.

The court has to decide whether a law was violated, he said.

“If it’s something that is an overarching policy that we find as a result of this court case that needs to be changed or needs to be revisited then we can take a look at that as well,” he said. “But we have to let the court findings come out first.”

Staff Writer Kate Alexander contributed to this report.

lpowers@gazette.net