OCEANSIDE — A lack of sports fields in North County has kept many student-athletes on waiting lists to play, and with COVID-19 moving more sports into the fall, winter and spring, those waiting lists may grow.
Suzanne Campaign has been a player, coach and certified official for lacrosse in the region. She is the founder and league director of North Coast STORM, a non-profit lacrosse program for girls in first grade through high school.
The program started in Carlsbad with just 14 girls, but the program has quickly grown much bigger over the years and continues to do so.
“We’re growing daily even with the pandemic,” Campaign said. “I always planned on just a small little group but now we’re looking at 200 kids playing in the fall.”
According to Campaign, there is a big desire for kids to play lacrosse and many other sports throughout North County, but a lack of sports fields has kept kids from playing.
“The one thing that keeps kids from getting on the field right now is the fact that the field space is so limited,” Campaign said.
She also added that soccer is often prioritized over other sports like lacrosse when it comes to field access.
“Giving soccer access to fields on a 12-month basis has really crippled other sports,” she said.
Campaign noted cities like Encinitas and Oceanside have a more severe lack of fields than Carlsbad, where her program has been able to thrive.
“We tried starting a program in Oceanside but the field issue there eventually just pushed us out,” Campaign said. “Carlsbad is where we’ve found the most willingness to let our sport grow.”
Still, even the field options in Carlsbad are limited which is why Campaign still has a waitlist for her program.
Adding more kids to make bigger teams won’t work either because they still won’t get enough playtime, which for Campaign is the key to learning lacrosse.
“I could add more girls and that would kind of fix my waitlist problem but then they’re just standing around not getting to play,” Campaign said. “We’re trying to do right by the kids and parents.”
There are 28 multipurpose fields in Oceanside, which are open areas that can be used for multiple purposes and sports like soccer, football, rugby and lacrosse. According to Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Olson, approximately 12 of those fields are regularly permitted to sports groups due to size, parking and other amenities.
“There are 2-3 others that sometimes can accommodate small sports groups but are not permitted regularly to our traditional youth sports organizations,” Olson said via email.
Oceanside also has 23 “Diamond” fields that are traditionally used for baseball and softball throughout the year but on a rare occasion can be used for other uses like smaller soccer fields.
There is also the SoCal Sports Complex, which has 22 fields according to Vicky Gutierrez, the city’s senior property agent.
Campaign said prices to rent fields at the Sports Complex are too expensive for many athletic organizations like hers. She noted the cost to play in certain sports programs is another factor that keeps kids from playing.
In 2013, City Council approved a recreational disposition and development agreement with the Sports Complex developer, Sudberry Properties. This agreement included an athletic fields lease agreement.
Sudberry developed the property and fields and the city gave them permission to do so, but the city does not negotiate prices for the fields.
“We have nothing to do with those prices,” Gutierrez said.
According to Anne Law, vice president and director of marketing for Sudberry Properties, its rental fees for tournaments at the Sports Complex cost about the same if not less than other facilities in San Diego County like it.
“Cost depends on the tournament,” Law said via email. “Some of the very large professional tournaments pay more than a smaller regional youth tournament would pay.”
On the days without tournaments, Oceanside youth soccer gets to use several fields at no charge.
“Plus there is a field in Oceanside dedicated to the public that we maintain year around,” Law added.
The Sports Complex hasn’t hosted any tournaments at the facility since the COVID-19 shutdown in March, but it has hosted practices and camps.
Besides Campaign, other residents have also expressed their desire to see more fields in Oceanside to the city.
“We make every effort to balance the needs and desires of each sports organization request but with numerous groups requesting the same space and time, it is very difficult,” Olson said. “Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports with by far the highest number of participants for any of our sports organizations, so depending on the year, they do get a great deal of space.”
Olson added that while some groups do get field space, it sometimes isn’t their first choice of location or time.
Campaign and others have also expressed a desire to see more fields with artificial turf, which can be played on even in the rain, and more lighting for fields so teams can play longer into the evenings during the winter months when it gets dark early.
“We are in the process of adding additional lighting to a few fields in an effort to get more hours of usage on the fields,” Olson said. “Additionally, we will be looking into grant funding opportunities in an effort to construct additional fields within the city. This of course will be dependent on successfully securing funding.”
Campaign’s teams have had been able to get field time over the summer, but she is worried about access in the winter and spring as tournaments and other sports seasons have been pushed back due to COVID-19.
Though many have returned to the fields for conditioning in compliance with state and county guidelines, Oceanside Parks and Recreation is also expecting some additional challenges ahead as more competitive activities resume.
“We are anticipating quite a few challenges with this and are in the process of making plans not only for fields also for facilities such as gymnasiums and swim centers,” Olson said. “The user groups will have to be flexible with their desires and expectations as there is only so much space.”
Despite the challenges, North Coast STORM is still moving forward and trying to get as many girls to play lacrosse as possible.
“The fields are going to become less accessible but we’re still trying to make games happen,” Campaign said.