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Area leaders discuss needs for athletics

Published Jun. 1, 1997|Updated Oct. 1, 2005

(ran PAS edition)

On any given night and every weekend the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex is a whirlwind of athletic activity.

Baseballs and softballs jumping skyward off the bats of Little Leaguers, soccer balls bouncing every which way through a maze of legs and feet, or bodies moving after a kid carrying a football.

But the site that once was a serene orange grove on the outskirts of Lake Padgett Estates has virtually outgrown itself. Almost since the county-built fields sprang up along Collier Parkway in 1992, coaches and players have been scrambling to fit in practices and games for the overlapping seasons of baseball, softball, football and soccer.

On Tuesday, presidents of three youth leagues met with Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri and parks and recreation administrators Dan Johnson and Jim Slaughter to plan for growth.

"I think it was a good beginning," Mulieri said. "It gave me a chance to become educated to the needs of the various leagues."

Presidents Herb Bradley (Land O'Lakes Little League), Floyd DeForest (Land O'Lakes Gators football and cheerleading program in the Pasco Police Athletic League) and Tim Hayes (Central Pasco United Soccer Association) say their leagues are filled to capacity and that an alternative site or an expansion of existing fields are needed.

"Look at all the homes they're building. They're pouring into Central Pasco," DeForest said. "We need to expand the (football and cheerleading) program. We've got so many kids who want to play."

In 1995, Land O'Lakes' PPAL teams had plenty of roster spots open and not enough football players turned out to form a varsity team. Now, there is a waiting list for four divisions of football and cheerleading squads.

"I guarantee you if we had the facilities we could put another 500 kids in Little League and we could double PPAL," said DeForest, who also coaches a Little League softball team. "You hate to turn them away. We've turned 60 or 70 kids away already. Some of them didn't even bother to call, because they knew we were full."

Little League and soccer, both of which have set participation records in recent years, deal with the same constraints. Their fields are adjacent to one another on 29 acres.

"We're maxed out as far as field space," said Bradley, who is lobbying for three more ball fields at a site that already has six fields.

Hayes views the Land O'Lakes Community Center and adjoining land owned by the Pasco County School Board on U.S. 41 as a viable solution. Plans have been discussed for a Heritage Park, which would include Florida Cracker-style buildings along with additional fields for football and adult softball.

"I see the community center (area) as a way to provide some relief quickly," Hayes said.

That would sit fine with DeForest, who would prefer keeping PPAL activities at the U.S. 41 facility. As it stands now, PPAL practices are held at the community center, but games are played at the recreation complex.

"It would save us a lot of work dragging (equipment) back and forth," DeForest said.

Besides expanding fields in Land O'Lakes, Mulieri said another possibility would be to build an athletic facility in the Wesley Chapel area. All three presidents say they get children from that area, as well as kids who live in the growing area on the border of Hillsborough and Pasco counties near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Although expansion of the recreation complex is not likely to happen any time soon, Hayes said a local architect is drawing plans for Heritage Park.

All in all, the parties agreed that the meeting was a step in the right direction.

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