Kevin Durant. Joe Haden. Marissa Coleman.
Those are just three of the dozens of professional athletes from Prince George’s County whose prowess started in youth sports programs.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks seeks to enhance such programs through the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) to ensure youth sports are part of its mission statement.
She briefly explained to more than 100 youth coaches, players and organizers last month how youth sports affected her daughter as a member of the PG Pride youth lacrosse team that played all of its games in neighboring Montgomery County.
“I had to tell you how awful it felt for me to drive my daughter from Prince George’s County to Potomac, Maryland,” she said. “Driving … someplace else where my daughter can play sports said to her that her home wasn’t good enough. This is a message we cannot afford to send to our children.”
The commission serves as a bi-county agency empowered by the state to acquire, develop and maintain land within Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as collaborate with the Prince George’s public school system to use some of its schools for practices and games.
Some youth organizers and coaches said that’s part of the problem. According to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation website, there are about 50 community centers and 34 members of the county’s Boys and Girls Clubs. In the past several years, independent football and basketball squads have increased in the county, creating a battle with county teams for practice time inside gymnasiums and on athletic fields.
“We’re fighting over the same gyms,” said Bewanda Alexander, vice president and athletic director for the Kettering-Largo-Mitchellville Boys & Girls Club. “I can’t understand why we can get into some of the rec centers around here. We’re in competition with them and we shouldn’t be.”
Aaron Graves, head baseball coach at Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, suggested the county invest in land to build turf fields for baseball and softball players near Croom Vocational High School in Cheltenham.
“That way, Prince George’s County can be a number-one spot in this region when I played,” said Graves, who also runs Full Count Baseball, a nonprofit baseball youth development program. “The county can generate revenue for baseball tournaments, for clinics, for softball tournaments. We shouldn’t have to go to Anne Arundel County or Howard County to play baseball.”
Marissa Coleman, who plays for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, recalled when she participated in basketball, teeball and soccer in Upper Marlboro as a youth. Although she now runs her own basketball program, Lady Prime Marissa Coleman, with about 200 girls throughout the D.C. area, she advises parents to allow their children to play multiple sports.
“I always believe that sports mimic life,” she said. “Anything to create opportunities for the youth is important. It’s not even necessary about trying to go pro. Using sports as a conduit to get a college scholarship to better a person’s circumstance and what the county executive is doing will allow that to happen.”
In the meantime, “collaboration” was the common theme among the county’s Parks and Recreation, school system and Boys & Girls Clubs in ensuring equal time on the courts and fields.
“We recognize there is frustration here,” said Elizabeth Hewlett, chairwoman of the county’s Planning Commission. “We’re just trying to work through it to find a way to make these facilities [available] for everybody.”