The Fullerton Blue Stars Soccer Club will continue practicing in the dark for the time being as Fullerton City Council members voted 4-1 Tuesday night to have the council’s parks and recreation committee do a full review of the city’s youth recreation sports policy.
Tuesday’s action comes after parents and coaches of the soccer club, which is based in the low-income Richman neighborhood on the city’s south side, showed up in force to the council’s Oct. 18th meeting to complain about the lack of access their teams have to the city’s lighted fields.
As things stand now, Blue Stars teams are relegated to practicing at the Richman Elementary School field, which has no lights, while other sports teams are allowed to practice under the lights at the adjacent Richman Park field.
The explanation the city gave for keeping the Blue Stars out that access to the lighted fields is limited to “city partner” organizations. The league the Blue Stars are in, Orange County Community Youth Sports League (OCCYSL), does not meet the city’s partner requirement that 80 percent of its members are Fullerton residents because the league also has teams in Anaheim, Placentia and Buena Park.
So the only way the Blue Stars can get around the residency requirement is to affiliate with a state or national governing body such as the CalSouth Soccer Association. This is how more affluent organizations such as the Fullerton Rangers Youth Soccer Club are able to practice on the lighted fields in Richman Park.
But the Blue Stars can’t afford the membership fees that CalSouth charges, which in essence puts the Blue Stars kids in a Catch 22: The only way they can play on lighted fields is if their teams play in a league their parents can’t afford.
“We want to talk about the policy,” said Blue Stars head coach Jorge Sigaran at Tuesday’s meeting. “You think that those parents who are financially challenged have the extra money to pay CalSouth?”
Councilman Bruce Whitaker, who hoped to force a policy change Tuesday night, was the lone dissenter in the council’s vote. He lambasted his colleagues for not getting “hands on” and not listening to their constituents.
“So many of these bureaucratic requirements do add considerably to the cost of participation,” Whitaker said. He also remarked that while the policy may be working for other parts of the city, the low-income families from the southwest corner of Fullerton are adversely affected by it.
“If people have the ability to finance those costs, then maybe they have blinders of a sort on and they’re not understanding what they’re imposing on families of lesser means,” Whitaker said.
In addition to the residency issue, questions were also raised about whether the OCCYSL has adequate background check procedures for coaches and parents who help out with the teams.
During public comment, Sigaran acknowledged that Blue Stars coaches have not gone through the Live Scan checks offered by police departments to sports teams. All CalSouth coaches go through Live Scan. Blue Stars coaches and other volunteers are ok with doing Live Scan checks, but said some coaches don’t have a social security number to base the check on, Sigaran said.
Yet, as a resident pointed out, it doesn’t make any sense for Live Scan checks to be a determining factor when it comes to what field the teams practice on.
“If you really thought the lack of Live Scan was the issue, you wouldn’t let them play on the field at all,” Sean Paden told the council.
Another issue brought up was the training of coaches.
Jeremy Brownell, a Rangers board member, said CalSouth not only protects kids through Live Scan, but also requires coaches receive training and follow safety guidelines when the teams play games and practice, like a no-heading policy in youth soccer.
The Rangers became engulfed in controversy earlier this year when the club’s former treasurer, Laura Zellerbach, was arrested on 27 charges of embezzlement and other felonies in connection with $250,000 allegedly stolen from the club.
“There’s certain requirements for their coaches to work with kids – certain licensing they have to go through,” Brownell said.
Paden called out this issue as another red herring.
“If safety is the concern, you’re not going to want children playing in the dark. It’s baffling,” Paden said. “I think the council needs to be proactive and direct a change of policy.”
Other city partners showed up to express their appreciation for the current policy and to tell the council that it doesn’t need fixing. Most showed their disappointment that the OCCYSL and Blue Stars went straight to the City Council rather than going through the parks and recreation commission.
“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all,” Councilman Greg Sebourn said. “I don’t think we can fix it tonight. I don’t think there is a simple fix to it.”
Sebourn directed the parks and recreation commission to audit the residency of the partner teams so if the 80 percent residency threshold needs to be adjusted, it can be done fairly.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.