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On a chilly Thursday night in late October around dusk, “Final Countdown,” blares from speakers hooked up to a maroon Honda Odyssey mini-van.
The van, parked in the middle of a grassy area at Briar Hill Park gives the Falcons and Jaguars, two Oldham County Youth Football League teams, background music to amp up their practice.
All this season, the teams have split the usable, level part of the field, roughly 80 yards long and 40 yards wide to practice. The field is bordered by a wooded area and a jungle gym with a parking lot on the other. Neither team’s coaches complain about their allotted space, despite a few major setbacks: the field isn’t nearly regulation size, there aren’t any permanent lights and the space isn’t flat.
OCYFL president Tim Kollenberg said finding practice space is by far the league’s biggest challenge.
“People will call me all the time and say, ‘I saw a team practice in front of Camden Station on a little patch of grass next to Ky. 146,’” he said. “Well, that’s the only spot we’ve got and that’s where they choose to go because you can’t find spots.”
In 2002, OCYFL added a second field at Wendell Moore Park.
As daylight savings time wound down, the time of natural light became less and less. Together, the Falcons, in the 7-8-year olds pee wee division and the Jaguars, in the 9-10-year olds junior division pitched in to rent a portable spotlight tower, plugged into a portable generator.
Falcons coach Mike Ledford said the lights cost about $600 to rent for the eight weeks teams need them. Ledford said another disadvantage is that his players take a while to acclimate to a regulation-size field on game day.
“When we need to, we’ve come out here and marked off, put a cone on each sideline about five yards or 10 yards and in the end zone,” Ledford said. “But we don’t have a real football field, so we haven’t been able to do anything to adjust to a 100-yard football field except for game-time on Saturdays.”
On the other side of a few poplar trees, a walnut tree and a few tennis courts to the north end of the park, the Broncos’ 11-12 year-old players in the senior division practice around a few ditches on a semi-flat sloping field.
Broncos coach Todd Goodlett said he’s had dirt hauled in and helped scattered by his players, assistant coaches and parents to help level the ground. The Broncos have also had to deal with the disadvantages of practicing at a public park.
“We were out here last week and they had horses running up and down through here,” Goodlett said. “What are you gonna do, tell them not to run horses? No, you just kinda keep your kids out of the way and go with practice.”
Like the Jaguars and Falcons, the Broncos also furnish their own lighting in the form of four painters’ lights, set up around the practice area.
Other teams haven’t been as fortunate as the three at Briar Hill Park. Kollenberg said some teams practiced in grassy areas at North Oldham Baptist Church, but the church expanded its facility. Teams moved to a property owned by the North Oldham Lions Club.
Businesses can also sign hold harmless agreements with the teams and the league, in the event of a serious injury.
OCYFL has great participation, but Kollenberg said he doesn’t see the problem of practice space getting any better. The league has expanded from 12 to 22 teams in the past 13 years.
The league might get some help in the future. A 54-acre tract behind Oldham County High School and the Oldham County Country Club has been designated for use by the Oldham County Youth Soccer Association. It’s unclear when the new park, owned by the Kentucky Department of Corrections, will be ready to use due to ongoing fundraising.
Oldham County Parks and Recreation has allowed the league to use its softball fields when available for no charge.
“The biggest thing we need is just flat ground with lights,” Kollenberg said. “From a practice standpoint, some 100-yard fields or 50-yard fields that are flat and that you could play soccer on when you needed to or practice football or any other number of things would be more of a benefit to the youth sports organizations than anything.”
Goodlett and his Broncos have become accustomed to their settings.
“We just make do,” he said. “Beggars can’t be choosers. You take what you can get.”
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