Six weeks after the Upper Loudoun Youth Football League announced that—after 49 years—it would no longer play its games at Fireman’s Field because of increasing fees, town and county leaders are in talks to address the concerns.
Through a Town Council initiative aimed at generating more money from the town-owned complex, Shaun Alexander Enterprises and Play to Win took over management of the property in January under a 5-year contract that requires payments to the town of $120,000 in 2018, increasing by $10,000 each year until 2022.
According to a statement from President Kevin Kean in mid-April, the reason for the league’s sudden exit was because Play to Win, which manages day-to-day operations in the complex, indicated in March that “there would be a substantial increase in the annual investment, among other liabilities, required to remain at Fireman’s Field.”
In an April 13 statement, Play to Win and Shaun Alexander Enterprises proposed a $70 per hour rental fee at an estimated cost of $12,390 for the season. This was compared to about $9,000 that the league paid the county last year for rental and maintenance costs, at a rate of $12.50 per player per season with 700 players registered.
Play to Win also requested that the league provide the field paint and sod needed to convert the field from baseball to football. The firms noted that the proposed fees were less than it would cost them to make the field available for football, maintain it throughout the football season and convert it back to baseball in the spring.
After community backlash, the management team began working with the town and county to find a way to lower the user fees. On April 16, Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) sent Mayor Kwasi Fraser and the Town Council a letter suggesting the county parks department resume maintenance of the field, which would help to lower the rates.
“We decided that Shaun Alexander would think about it and if he had some ideas that might work, he would send those to county staff and town staff and then we would go from there,” Buffington said. “The end goal needs to allow the youth sports leagues the ability to play at Fireman’s Field under rates that are consistent with county rates.”
Buffington said that one solution could involve the county managing operations and maintenance of the fields for most of the year, with Alexander’s firm doing so at other times. He said that work would be unlikely to represent a large cost increase to the county department, which maintains scores of fields, but that if the county is not involved at all, then managing operations there is a “huge cost to everyone who uses the fields.”
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting that the town has been “actively negotiating” with Shaun Alexander and Buffington. “I would anticipate within the next month or so we will be proposing jointly with the county a resolution to the situation,” he said.
Keane said that, regardless of the outcome of those talks, the league will not be returning to Fireman’s Field. Instead, it will be playing its 2018 season at Woodgrove and Loudoun Valley High Schools. “We’re very, very sorry it didn’t work out,” he said.
The Greater Loudoun Babe Ruth League, however, will continue to host a portion of its games at the complex, as it has done for nearly four decades. League President Brett Smith said that when the league was told user fees would increase to about $4,000 for 12 games and in 2018, as opposed to the $1,250 it paid the county last year, it initially decided to not play any of its games this year at Fireman’s Field. Smith said that it was when Shaun Alexander offered to pick up the league’s tab for the 2018 season that it decided to stay put.
“They indicated to me that they want GLBR to continue to play there,” he said. “This season’s worked out great.”
The one condition to the agreement is that the league has to perform some in-kind services at the complex, such as painting and volunteering at events—like it did at the Purcellville Music & Arts Festival last weekend. Smith said he has no idea what the league will do next year, though.
Concern about increased user fees initially arose late last year, when the town awarded Alexander’s firm a contract to manage the entire 15.89-acre Fireman’s Field complex, replacing the county after 33 years. Representatives from the firm at that time made it clear that they would continue to support all youth leagues.
At the Dec. 14 Town Council meeting, Play to Win Chief Marketing Officer Carolyn Dobson said “we are committed to [Upper Loudoun Youth Football League’s] continued involvement and programming at the same cost with increased service and support from our organization.”
When Councilman Doug McCollum mentioned that there was concern among residents that the relationship with the league might change with the new management, Dobson said the relationship would remain the same.
“We are excited to be partnering with them and keeping the status quo,” she said. “What we would like to do is actually support them more, increase their level of service, help them with event programming to celebrate their milestones and operate the status quo as they have been for so many years.”
Councilman Ryan Cool followed Dobson by saying that he had previously attended a league board meeting and told them that if the league ever decided to leave the complex, it would be on its own volition.
“I take accountability. I take responsibility if things don’t work,” Cool said at the time. “Don’t read the papers on it, read the quotes. We’ve been saying since day one, we’re not kicking anybody out, we’re going to make it better.”
Buffington said that the town and county staffs would continue meeting to work through a new agreement. He said that everyone involved would need to feel comfortable with a decision before it’s implemented. “I’m hopeful that we’ll get there,” he said.
Purcellville Town Manager David Mekarski said the next meeting likely would be the week of June 11.