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Soccer club scores an important goal

June 21, 1998

Tim Rowland

After a Sunday afternoon concert of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in late winter, a Rockville couple unfamiliar with Hagerstown was strolling back to their car on Potomac Street.

Admiring the windowfronts of Twilight's restaurant and the Washington County Arts Council gallery, they started asking questions about the city and vowed to return.

Whether they did or not, I have no idea. But Hagerstown, bless it, had made a favorable impression.

Sometimes it's easy for we who are close to it to be too critical. And we forget that Washington County can look pretty good to sprawl-shocked suburbanites whose fields are concrete and whose mountains are brick and steel.

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I was reminded of the theater episode Thursday when walking with Rudy Krumpe and Bob Adair through some sparkling emerald fields that will be the new grounds for the Hagerstown Soccer Club.

Adair recounted a similar experience involving some soccer parents from the cities, who were impressed with Washington County during a recent tournament - they specifically commented on what a fine place this must be to live, Adair said.

For years, the soccer club - hatched in 1989 after one too many refrain of "there's nothing to do around here" from the kids - has been trying to find an ear in government. They wanted a patch of ground large enough for several fields that would allow lots of local kids to play and serve as a central site for regional tournaments.

This seemed simple enough. A comparatively small outlay of funds for what would be a county park with a minimum of overhead and a maximum of use, figuring there might be as many as a couple thousand kids who play organized soccer in the county.

But the Hagerstown Soccer Club figured out early on that people who wait for government to act grow long beards. "I don't have any animosity toward the County Commissioners, but it seemed every time we talked to them we had to sell the project again," Krumpe said.

So the club gave the county a red card, reached into its own pockets and bought up 21 acres of an old asparagus farm just past Hoffman meats on Cearfoss Pike.

I'm still an old grump when it comes to soccer. But this is such a positive development on so many levels that I am willing to set aside my biases for a day or two.

First, of course, this is a positive development for the kids, and certainly that alone would be enough. It is also a boost for the community in general and proof that a group of private people can take charge without waiting for the bumbling, stumbling politicians to figure out which side of a soccer ball is up.

But perhaps the most significant side effect of the project is the exposure Washington County will receive.

The Hagerstown Soccer Club hosts the Mason Dixon Cup, which has quietly become the premier event in Washington County that no one is aware of.

Between 1,200 and 1,800 kids and their parents show up for the tournament, staying in local hotels, eating in local restaurants, shopping at local stores and scorching local video machines. It's fair to calculate that the tournament boosts the weekend economy by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the lasting benefit goes beyond hotel rooms; it gets back to the idea of exposure. Lots of folks from the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore beltway swarms are seeing Washington County for the first time - but, with luck and planning, not the last.

The tourism department should be jumping all over these local soccer tournaments, nudging people in the direction of Antietam, Fort Frederick, Hagerstown's art galleries and live theaters, Pen Mar and our picturesque towns.

And that's why it's important to have in place attractive lures such as rail trails and ice rinks (and why it's so maddening when vision-impaired politicians stall and stutter over projects such as the roundhouse and the stadium).

Will an ice rink or a roundhouse museum or an agricultural museum (without the office complex, please) ever be a big money maker on its own? No. Nor should we expect them to be.

But together, they create a tapestry that will enrich the county with tourists, new residents, jobs and money - the economic vibrancy of people who wish to be associated with a winning community. And for tax-conscious citizens, consider these projects repay us in revenue that can't be counted solely by individual gate receipts.

Twenty-one acres of grass may not seem like a lot. But I would not underestimate the impact the Hagerstown Soccer Club's purchase will have not just on sport, but on the community in general.

Washington County is progressing. The Hagerstown Soccer Club should be congratulated for their commitment to kids and for reminding us that time and community improvement march on, even if local governments don't.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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