Sevierville Rotary soccer could lose use of fields at children's home

Jun. 05, 2013 @ 11:11 PM

Representatives from Smoky Mountain Children's Home, Sevierville Rotary Soccer Park and the city of Sevierville met last Wednesday to discuss the soccer league's future with the fields behind the home.

No agreement was reached at the meeting, though representatives from both the home and the soccer league were optimistic that everything would work out.

"Nothing has come out of it yet," said Devin Koester, an attorney and city alderman who coaches in the Rotary Club-sponsored soccer league. Koester was at the meeting to represent the league as a concerned coach and father. He said he does not serve any official capacity with the league.

"I think everyone has a better understanding of where everyone is coming from, so I think there's going to be an exploration of how we can work together going forward, if possible," Koester said. "Everyone's just doing some information-gathering right now. We're trying to find out ways to handle some of their concerns."

"We're working through the situations," said Daniel Boling, director of the children's home. "It's a relationship that we dont want to sever, and we think maybe we've found a way to stay open and meet the certification and continue the soccer league.

Wednesday's meeting came after children's home officials sent a letter, signed by Boling, to the league saying they it have to stop using the fields, which sit on the home's property. The letter cited safety and security issues as reasons, as well as continued growth of both entities.

Issues included "improper vehicle ingress and egress by parents and others attending the events as well as the parking of vehicles in undesignated areas, safety issues related to vehicle traffic through the campus, and the obstruction of streets, prohibiting emergency vehicles access to the campus, if required," according to the letter.

Koester elaborated, describing situations where hasty parents entered and exited the property in the wrong areas, even though signs indicated the proper routes.

"As you can imagine, they probably didn't drive through there with as much care as they should have," Koester said.

The two entities had addressed these issues at a meeting in January, which resulted in an "oral gentlemen's agreement" that would allow the league to use the fields until the end of the first soccer season, June 1.

The home's board of directors, however, met in April to discuss the issues further. The result was a vote to discontinue use of the soccer fields by external parties "attributable to the growth of both the leagues and SMCH," according to the letter.

Tom Leonard, director of coaching and treasurer of the soccer league, said he was shocked when he read the letter.

"We had met with them back in January, and the last thing they said was they were working on the agreement and taking it to their board," he said. We thought they might come back to us with some changes, but not this."

The fields and facilities were funded and built through Rotary Club efforts, so the league had been using the park since its beginning in 2007. That all changed when children's home officials began to feel that the influx of traffic and visitors was jeopardizing the safety of its children and staff.

Koester also noted that the original agreement had become outdated.

"The original agreement wasn't particularly effective," Koester said. "It was made back in the early 2000s."

The home currently takes care of 68 children. It is expected to reach its maximum number of 93 children by September. The home also maintains a staff of 128 employees.

"Our licensure demands from the Department of Children's Services (DCS) and the Coalition on Accreditation (COA) prohibit (Smoky Mountain Children's Home) from considering many alternatives or alterations to the agreement between SMCH and SRSP that might otherwise be negotiable," states the letter.

"We just went through a re-accreditation process, and they require us to be certified by the COA," Boling said. "When they met with us they found that the soccer league was conducting unsafe practices because we couldn't verify who all was on campus at those times. So our insurance agent was contacted and he made the same statement."

After last Wednesday's meeting, the home is allowing the league to hold its club tryouts at the fields. One tryout was held this Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., and another tryout is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The season starts in the fall. Another meeting between the entities is scheduled for the end of June.

"They have a plan they're working on and then we'll resubmit that to the board and see if we can continue our relationships," Boling said. "We're hoping we'll get it all worked out and continue the relationship as it has been. We'll find a way."

Koester is also hopeful.

"I'm an optimist. We're not at an impasse, so that's good," Koester said. "Will it be shaken out in the next few days? Probably not. It will probably take some time."

City Administrator Russell Treadway attended last Wednesday's meeting.

"We just wanted to see if there was any role the city could perhaps play in helping to find some resolution," he said. "It's a great soccer program for youth, and of course the children's home is a great asset and citizen in the community. We were there just hoping to see if there was any common ground and see if we could move forward."

Koester said that if the two entities could not work out an agreement, he would like to see the city acquire or construct property for additional flat fields.

"The bottom line is, we need to do some things on the city of Sevierville side to provide some flat fields so that the use in the city can continue," he said. "It's not just about soccer, either; so many sports use flat fields, and right now we just don't have a permanent facility for that."

Approximately 200-250 children participate in the soccer league every year, Leonard said, and the general public uses the fields, too.

"We've always had a good relationship with the home, so the gameplan is to try to find a solution," Leonard said. "We would do whatever we have to do. We're 100 percent willing to work with them."

rhargett@themountainpress.com