BROOKSVILLE — In an about-face, county recreation officials will allow the West Hernando Cougars youth football and cheerleading program to once again use Delta Woods Park and operate the park's concession stand for the 2012 season.
In the agreement worked out between the parties in recent days, the league might also finally get the regulation-size playing field it has always wanted, and the county will get much-needed help to maintain the facility.
"We've worked through and ironed out our differences,'' Harry Johnson, the county's recreation coordinator, said Thursday.
League director Bobby McFarland said he was thrilled that he and his roughly 250 football players and cheerleaders would be back home this season at Delta Woods.
"We're very excited. The kids are very happy. And the parents are ecstatic that they won't be dragging equipment around anymore'' because teams will be able to practice and play games in the same place, McFarland said.
Frustrated by a lack of response from McFarland on several issues, Johnson had signed a concession agreement for the Delta Woods facility with the Spring Hill Athletic Association in late February. That league had expressed interest in expanding its program.
McFarland expressed frustration this month over being closed out of the park, stirring up discussion in the community among several local leagues.
Once the county and McFarland met to talk about how to get the Cougars back into the county's good graces, the Spring Hill Athletic Association stepped aside and allowed negotiations to proceed.
McFarland, who has headed the Cougars program for a decade and had been using Delta Woods for the last couple years, fell behind in paying the league's bills to the county last year.
Several notices seeking payment were delivered to McFarland, but it wasn't until after he was notified that the concession stand had gone to the other group that McFarland paid the $2,600 bill for the concession stand and a portion of the $450 fee his league owed for use of the field lights at Delta Woods.
While the county and McFarland haven't totally settled their money issues yet, McFarland has been invited back and has agreed to having the Cougars run the concession stand.
McFarland also didn't respond to numerous requests by Johnson to clean out the concession stand after last season.
At one point, a county employee reported the stand was so filthy that it would likely get shut down if examined by the Health Department.
Johnson said he planned to meet McFarland today at the stand and would give him two keys and collect the $50 key deposit. Under the new agreement, McFarland will keep up the stands, and there will be periodic inspections to be sure they don't fall into an unacceptable state, Johnson said.
In addition, McFarland has been put on notice that the stands cannot be used for storage of league equipment.
The new agreement will run from July 1 until the end of November.
"Bobby's word to the county is that they are going to pay their bill up front,'' Johnson said. "We're going to give them a second chance so they can redeem themselves.''
Johnson said the entire blowup at least allowed to county to send the message that "the county means business'' and that he expects agreements to be honored.
As for the league, McFarland has agreed to work with the county to expand one of the two non-regulation-size football fields at the park by 20 yards. That would mean Cougars home games could be played at the park. The league will work to find local businesses willing to help with the project.
The league also will agree to pay to the county the $10-per-player fee that other leagues are paying to help maintain the cash-strapped county parks.
McFarland said the Cougars have been waiting a long time for regulation fields to call home. Home games previously had been played at several different locations.
"They're going to be able to play where they practice finally,'' he said. "And we're going to continue to provide a really good program for the kids.''
Johnson said he was glad to give the Cougars another opportunity, along with a stern message about fulfilling obligations.
"We'll just call it lesson learned,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.