The Columbus City Council has given a trio of local organizations about nine months to work together on creating a new formal agreement for the future collective use of Wilderness Park Soccer Complex.
Many residents and several people representing Columbus Soccer Club and American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) addressed the Council during its April 17th regular meeting to lament their frustrations and concerns, which seemed to equate to a desire for better communication among the parties.
The Council ultimately approved Resolution No. R23-62 that called for a temporary agreement with Columbus Soccer Club. Inc. for use of Wilderness Park soccer facilities. The resolution states that representatives of the Columbus Soccer Club, American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and Columbus Adult Soccer League will form a structured Columbus Soccer Club Inc. to collaboratively oversee the park with equal representation from each organization.
If the involved entities cannot come to terms on how to move forward with how the park is handled by Dec. 1, 2023, the agreement states the City of Columbus will explore other options for the operation and oversight of Wilderness Park.
The reasoning? For a long time, the City of Columbus, which owns the park, had an agreement with the Wilderness Park Operations Committee (WPOC) that covered aspects such as maintenance and scheduling. The WPOC was comprised of members from Columbus Soccer Club and AYSO. A decision to modify that was made because the WPOC had been lacking a formal structure and bylaws throughout the last several years, City officials noted.
Mayor Jim Bulkley said the new agreement would not prevent any organization from continuing to use the facility the way they always have or making changes, adding that other area facilities like Pawnee Park baseball field have similar agreements in place. The mayor also reiterated that none of the entities will have to merge under the agreement, directly responding to confusion raised by some of the public in attendance.
Fees associated with park use were also brought up, but addressed.
“The City isn't involved in establishing fees because we're not the ones overseeing and maintaining it,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said during the meeting. “… Those fees were established because of information that was shared between entities.”
After about an hour of officials from the soccer organizations and members of the public expressing opinions and frustrations over the wording in the agreement, as well as debate over timelines, each organization’s role and park fees, the Council and city administrator noted the importance for the need to move forward.
Council President Beth Augustine-Schulte said nothing could be done about what had happened in the past, but the resolution was a step in the right direction toward creating better communication among all parties.
Councilman Ron Schilling later voiced his thoughts, indicating the quarrel among the various speakers seemed more about personal feelings than what was best for the kids.
“My concern was the kids to start with … I said, ‘OK, how are the kids going to be affected? What’s going to happen?’ And as I went through, nothing is going to happen with the kids. They’re still going to play soccer. There’s still going to be an AYSO, there’s going to be adult group, there’s still going to be the club team,” Schilling said during the meeting.
Schilling told everyone in the room that the adults should be doing what they can to make everything better for the kids.
“I think this contract will lead to that eventually,” he said. “We’ve got nine months to work on it. At the end of nine months, if we can’t come up with something stable, then we’ll find something that’s going to be stable. And at that time, AYSO, club soccer, you may not like it …”