Study shows more amenities are needed for youth sports

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There’s good news for youth softball players in the Cottage Grove and Woodbury area. There are plenty of fields available in the two communities for your sport. 
But if you play something else? Well, the two communities might have to play catch up on available space, depending on the sport.
As Woodbury and Cottage Grove continue to grow, so does the number of kids who are enrolling in youth athletic programs. With those new athletes comes a new set of challenges, when it comes to finding space for them to use. 
To meet that challenge head on, the parks and recreation departments from Cottage Grove and Woodbury sponsored a study of the athletic fields and gymnasiums available for youth teams in the area. The study came back just last week, in time for the Oct. 20 joint meeting between the city councils of the two communities.
It was a comprehensive study that covered 13 sports, played by 17 associations, Woodbury Parks Director Bob Klatt said. Those associations represented 1,800 teams, and more than 25,000 athletes. 
The area covered Woodbury, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island, and part of Afton, and part of Denmark Township. 
One thing that was common across the associations was that they are looking for prime time (generally 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., on weeknights), on prime fields and facilities, in prime locations. 
The study looked at facilities for baseball, softball, lacrosse, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, pickleball, wrestling and track and field. 
The study found that, while there are a surplus of softball fields with 60-foot-long basepaths, there is a need for more baseball fields at 75 and 90 feet. Participation in both sports is stable, Cottage Grove Parks and Recreation Director Zac Dockter said, but baseball could see an increase in the future.
There is a deficit in fields for both soccer and lacrosse, two sports that are expected to see strong growth in the future.
The study shows there are a surplus of tennis courts because there are several parks in the area that have one or two courts. The problem with that, though, is that organizations scheduling tournaments are usually looking for groupings of eight courts or more. 
Both volleyball and basketball programs are expected to continue with stable participation to some growth. However, the number of volleyball courts is at a minimum, according to the study; the number of basketball courts is adequate. 
Not all of the athletic groups are for kids, Klatt added. In Woodbury, for example, there is an increased demand for pickleball courts, as the sport is becoming very popular among adults and retirees. 
When the study was done, it looked at all of the facilities available, both city-owned and those owned by School District 833. That included the courts in the schools, but the study found that more indoor courts are desirable, Klatt said.
A full page of recommendations — ongoing, short-term and long-term — is included. Some of the ongoing recommendations are to work with the athletic associations to try to work out scheduling conflicts, monitor the school gym availability for volleyball and basketball, and to monitor the demand for pickleball courts.
A short-term solution to the problem of baseball fields is to expand some of the 60-foot-long basepaths at the softball fields. But the feedback received also suggests that some of the fields may be used later in the evenings, if the fields have lighting installed. Installing lights at the fields, however, is an expensive project, and is listed as a long-term solution.
The study was funded by the two cities, School District 833, and the various athletic associations in the area. The athletic associations saw the study during an Oct. 19 meeting, and provided “spirited discussion,” Klatt said. Scheduling was a priority for the associations, he said, but they had other recommendations, as well.
“The associations wanted us to be stronger with the baseball fields and to work on getting the schools to plan for more gyms,” Klatt said. 
Klatt and Dockter will bring the study back to their respective city councils later this year, so the councils can figure out when and how to fit some of the recommended changes to their respective capital improvement plans.
A final version of the study will be available for review by the end of the year.