Op-Ed: Over 600 Local Kids Denied Field Space for Flag Football
By Ted Pallad, Santa Barbara Friday Night Lights
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN'T WIN?
More than 680 children from 46 different local elementary and middle schools may lose the opportunity to play flag football on Friday nights this fall at Santa Barbara Junior High School. Conflicts with The Marjorie Luke Theatre, parking and school administration pushback are the reasons.
Kids in grades K-8th from Goleta, Santa Barbara and Montecito have come to the school on Friday nights to play their one hour game for about ten weeks each season. Santa Barbara Friday Night Lights ("FNL") has become a successful community event in town offering kids and families a fun, safe and healthy activity on Friday nights. Now, due to previous parking conflicts with The Marjorie Luke Theatre, FNL had their Fall 2022 permits cancelled. Outgoing School Principal, Arielle Curry acknowledges that they could work around their schedule but does not think Santa Barbara FNL is a 'good fit' for the school moving forward. It should be noted that Mrs. Curry is also serving as a Board Member of the Marjorie Luke Theatre.
Arielle Curry is leaving Santa Barbara Junior High School to become principal at Washington Elementary in the fall. Santa Barbara FNL had almost 70 children from Washington Elementary school alone that played this past Spring. Curry tells FNL that due to parking constraints that will significantly impact the school and East Side community, she will not be approving their fall 2022 permits.
The Marjorie Luke Theatre has 800 seats in their auditorium which, could potentially, equal 400 or more cars. FNL has a maximum of 258 kids playing or warming up at any given time, making far less of an impact on the east side. The Ocean Hills Covenant Church also is also allowed to park on campus every Sunday, again with hundreds of cars filling the school parking lots and city streets.
"Due to the fact that we understand FNL games, church services and theater productions cannot take place at the same time, we've gladly rescheduled games and have been extremely flexible to avoid any conflicts. Still, the kids of FNL are the ones that are being punished. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara is extremely limited in public field space. We have found that the fields at SBJH are available and ideal to accommodate the kids that want to play FNL. Without these fields, I'm afraid we'll have nowhere to go." says Nevin Pallad, Co-Commissioner at FNL.
Youth sports organizations in Santa Barbara continuously struggle to find open field space. The only challenge this past year for FNL was conflicts with the Marjorie Luke Theatre and parking, even though it was only for 2 of their 10 scheduled Friday night games.
It should be noted that the commissioners of Friday Night Lights have been huge supporters of the performing arts at the school district for the past seven years. All 4 of their children have participated and continue to participate in musical and theater productions at San Marcos High School, La Colina Junior High and Santa Barbara City College.
'We are huge fans of theater and youth sports. We've offered to work with The Luke on parking challenges and to promote their future productions to our FNL families", says Ted Pallad, Commissioner of Santa Barbara FNL.
A 'unique' joint-use partnership was created in 2002 between the Luke Theatre and the Santa Barbara Unified School District that enables them to operate the theatre for community and school use.
Pallad also stated, "We know the Luke does not want us on campus which has been expressed to us by several employees at SBJHS. Joint use of public school facilities is supposed to be a way to efficiently enhance the services and programs available to students while supporting the community use of public schools. While many local officials understand that joint use of public schools can often provide a host of benefits, doing so requires public agencies to work together in new and different ways. We are able to work with everyone but we just aren't getting their support."
Friday Night Lights suggested that the school district should open the parking lot on their 4.7 acre property (National Guard Armory Building) across the street from the school, which they spent $11.6 million dollars to purchase. "Their investment has sat vacant and behind a chain linked fence for over 5 years now. Currently its used for construction storage. What a waste of money and resources. This space would alleviate parking challenges for the East Side and would easily address the schools parking concerns."
FNL also pays almost $20,000 to Santa Barbara Junior High School for the use of their fields and feels that this money greatly benefits all students at Santa Barbara Unified.
Santa Barbara Friday Night Lights is hoping that they can work together with Santa Barbara Junior High School, The Marjorie Luke Theatre and Santa Barbara Unified School District to have their fall permits reinstated and approved. "There are no obstacles that we can't work through," says Pallad. "This is supposed to be all about the kids and it's frustrating that the decision made is because someone doesn't think we're a 'good fit' for the school and others are just unwilling to work on solutions. We hope our FNL families can help us secure these fields and prove to the school and district that we are actually a 'great fit' for Santa Barbara Junior High School.
FNL has reached out to Superintendent Maldonado and the school principal and unfortunately, has not heard back from either.
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