Proposed National Mall sports ban could leave club teams without practice fields

Media Credit: Kevin Chen | Contributing Culture Editor

The National Park Service introduced a pair of proposals earlier this month that would ban recreational activities on much of the National Mall and sharply increase rental rates.

GW club sports teams might need to look for a new place to practice.

The National Park Service introduced a pair of proposals earlier this month that would ban recreational activities on much of the National Mall and charge sharply higher rental rates for other fields on the Mall and in Rock Creek Park. Presidents of GW club sports teams said they fear they won’t be able to find a new place to practice if the proposal passes, since the Mall is the go-to practice location.

There are 35 club sports teams on campus and the University only offers outdoor practice space on the Mount Vernon Campus, club athletes said.

Michael Litterst, the chief of communications at NPS, said the increased rental prices and closed fields are only proposals for now and that NPS is aware of the impact that the measures would have on the D.C. sports community, something NPS will factor into their final decision on the ban next year.

The National Mall grounds – between 3rd and 17th streets – were initially closed earlier this year for turf restoration and are now open to the public. But NPS wants to continue that closure after the overhaul is completed next year, Litterst told the Washington Post earlier this month. NPS’s proposal would also bring the cost of renting space from as little as $7 for a whole season to about $70 for each two-hour time block to raise revenue for maintaining the fields, The Post reported.

The day after the proposals were announced, leaders of an adult sports league, D.C. Fray, launched an online petition demanding open use of the fields on the National Mall. The petition had 11,570 supporters as of Sunday.

“We are considering the questions raised during our outreach with these groups as we prepare in the coming weeks to make a formal public announcement of a proposed plan that will guarantee longstanding access to athletic fields in and around the National Mall,” Litterst said in an email.

NPS has not yet said why the agency introduced these proposals, citing a closed-media policy while the organization accepts public comment and feedback.

Joseph Hancuch, the president of GW men’s rugby club, which practices twice a week on the National Mall, said if the team can’t practice there, he doesn’t know where else they would go.

“GW already has about 15 club sports teams, along with varsity teams, that utilize the Mount Vernon athletic field and D.C., as I’m sure you’ve noticed, doesn’t have large recreational structure spaces,” Hancuch said. “So it will definitely put us in a bind to find another practice field that is semi-close to campus.”

If the rental prices are raised, Hancuch said the team would consider paying the new rent, meaning he would have to raise money from team members to afford the rent practice space.

“I would like to see that not happen because any org here at GW very much has a limited budget to work with,” he said. “So a rising cost in renting fields would definitely impact our ability to potentially travel to away games.”

Club sports apply for funding each year from the Student Association. Last spring, the men’s rugby team was allocated $3,745.54 for equipment, referee costs and bus rentals for away games for fiscal year 2018.

Jaimee Kidd, the co-president of the Club Softball team, said the organization will occasionally practice on the Mall “when the weather is particularly nice” once or twice a semester. She said in situations where the team can’t schedule a practice on campus, it would be concerning not to have the Mall as a backup.

“We use it for free as it is public space right now, so if this proposal goes through, we would probably have to avoid using it, as we don’t have an ample amount of funding to pay to practice all of the time,” she said in an email.

Abdul Khuram, the president of GW Cricket Club, said the cricket team practices on the fields or in the Lloyd Gym at the Mount Vernon Campus, but the latter is too small to practice. He said they need to practice in a more spacious area outside, but varsity sports are often given priority on GW fields, so they defer to the fields of the National Mall.

“We get that spot eight times a semester, but then again since we can’t practice outdoors, since we only get the Vern field like twice a year,” Khuram said. “It is still detrimental, especially to our fielding aspect of the game.”

He said his team uses the National Mall only two to three times a semester for a full day of practice.

“The mall was always our backup,” he said. “If we can’t do that, then what are we going to do?”

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