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Further Adventures of the Anti-School, Anti-Sports Brigade--Part 276

In a society that loves to assure itself that it is oh-so-child-oriented, the war against kids is raging with renewed vigor. In Richmond, where state lawmakers nearly fall over each other competing to see who can concoct the wackiest proposals, the bizarre bill of the day is House Bill 1368, the Home Serenity and Tranquility Act of 2006.

This feat of legislative creativity would ban all athletic activities on every sports field and every swimming pool in the state of Virginia, even apparently including indoor facilities, before 8 in the morning, after 6 in the afternoon, or at any time on Sundays, unless the organizers of the event got written permission from every single homeowner within 65 yards of the facility. I kid you not.

This would effectively mean a ban on all athletic activity after the work and school days and on Sundays throughout all of Virginia. I have yet to find the neighborhood--in any suburb, city or rural area--where every single neighbor is rational and friendly enough to turn down the chance to be the one who puts the kibosh on kids (or adults) having fun. Even in community-minded, sports-oriented family neighborhoods, the temptation would simply be too great for some prune to refuse to sign the form and thereby deny legions of fellow citizens the right to run around on a field.

Where does such a venemous proposal come from? Well, literally, it comes from the pen of a Fairfax County Democratic state delegate named Robert Hull. But of course now that he has every youth soccer league, Little League and parent from here to the Tennessee border thinking of him as Oscar the Grouch, Scrooge and Fagin all rolled into one, Hull has beaten a quick retreat and declared himself an opponent of his own bill. Seems he only offered the bill as a favor to a constituent, who, of course, he will not name.

But I do believe that constituent exists and did indeed ask his elected representative to redress his grievance, and that grievance is all too common these days. It goes something like this: "Get those #!?%*@ kids away from here!"

This is the refrain whether the situation is a school that wants to expand, a school that wants to use its athletic facilities, a school that dares to have parents and children arrive at the building by automobile, or a school that has the audacity to have children attending on a daily basis. Indeed, there needn't be a school involved to incur the wrath of the righteous neighbor: A baseball, soccer or football game, even the ping of a bouncing basketball on pavement, is plenty to set off the natives.

When I lived in south Florida, the general assumption about such whiners and complainers was that they were retirees who could no longer stand the idea that someone else might be having fun. We called such folks prunes. But this attitude is by no means restricted to the elderly. Everyone can play this game.

As Lisa Rein's Page One story today describes, the problem is that people are playing games "at all hours of the day and night." "All hours" is apparently defined as any time after 6 p.m. Leaving aside the fact that very few people retire for the night at 6, there is clearly a social good involved in having citizens be active and enjoy one another's company well into the night. I could see a field curfew of midnight or 1 a.m., but anything earlier gives power to exactly the people who should be have balls bounced against their bedroom walls around the clock.

The salient fact here is that only very rarely are new athletic fields introduced into the heart of an existing residential neighborhood. In all other cases, the field either preceded the construction of the nearby homes or both were built around the same time. In those situations, every single neighbor knew precisely what he was getting into when he bought or rented the house.

The wife and I once came thisclose to buying a house, but backed off because it was directly across the street from four public basketball hoops on a court equipped with lights. We decided we didn't want to live next to the late-night and early-morning pingpingping of the ball. Folks who choose to buy such houses either don't mind the sounds or decide that the annoyance is worth whatever they will save by purchasing property right next to a public facility. That puts all of us into one nice big category--people who should shut up and let others live their lives.

It looks like a combination of public shaming (front page story!), effective hysteria-mongering by youth sports associations, and raw fear on the part of state legislators considering what a few hundred thousand riled-up parents might look like will kill this bill by Monday. That's lovely.

But Richmond remains the national capital of silliness. This is what makes state legislatures so much fun for reporters to write about, but it's not hugely comforting to folks who take voting seriously.

Still to come in Richmond: So many stupendous bills, including Del. Bob Marshall's proposal to hold colleges liable for any injuries suffered by students who are given morning after pills by the student health service.

By Marc Fisher |  January 24, 2006; 12:52 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I don't like this bill at all. But it looks like it'll diea quick death so I am not that upset.

Oh, you say:
"Well, literally, it comes from the pen of a Fairfax County Democratic state delegate named Robert Hull."

This isn't true. It came from the pen of the anonymous constituent. All the coverage I've read/heard has made that clear. Whether Hull should represent his constuency this way is another issue.

Posted by: md 20/400 | January 24, 2006 1:33 PM

There's a really good list of good and bad bills here:

Posted by: Not Bob Hull | January 24, 2006 1:48 PM

After growing up next to a high school field that resulted in bright lights and loud noises until late in the evening (try 11), empty alcohol containers littering the lawn and the ever-jolly sports teams themselves celebrating by whaling on the neighborhood kids, I can say that if I lived in VA, I'd support the bill, with glee.

Posted by: Goodoldayz | January 24, 2006 2:01 PM

Every drug dealer in Virginia will support this bill too - with glee!

Posted by: Pat | January 24, 2006 2:26 PM

Wow, as an adult masters swimmer who joins practices before work (early in the AM) because it's the only time I can, I am stunned by the broadness of this bill. Plus, as a working parent, after 6 PM activities are the only ones I can put my kids in. I'm happy this bill will most likely die a swift death.

Posted by: misschatter | January 24, 2006 2:54 PM

I have only two problems with this bill. One is that another dumb-ass local politician has wasted state time and money coming up with something that will never see the light of day. And two is that the Post bothered to waste page 1 space on it, leading me to waste 10 minutes reading the article. And then, that I felt compelled to waste time at work by writing this comment. Then I guess I have three problems with this bill (fill in the rest of this Monty Python sketch here)____________

Posted by: beachhead | January 24, 2006 3:08 PM

Lets say this bill gets passed. Suburban neighborhood X now as the ability to vote on what events go on "after hours" at the local sports fields. Lets say they vote yes to the youth soccer league, but no to an african-american adult softball league. Think about that scenario for a while.'s scary what a law like this could end up like - forget old neighborhood codgers who just say no to be cranky prunes, but there are much worse implications that could arise instead.

Posted by: jan | January 24, 2006 3:40 PM

Parents - Ever think you might be overscheduling and overcompeting your kids? Perhaps they just need some time with you walking quietly in the Park or time alone to read a book or creatively think or imagine. Just a thought as you rush off in your car to drive them to another sports practice or lesson.

Posted by: relax a bit | January 24, 2006 4:28 PM

I would assume that Virginian cities have local ordinances prohibiting excessive noise, disorderly conduct, vandalism, littering, etc. Why punish kids for exercising and getting some fresh air?

Posted by: CT | January 24, 2006 4:44 PM

Oh please Olddayz, there were not beer cans etc., every night (your making that up and is a bit extreme).

And for the person that said the drug dealers support it, your being ignorantly silly, this is in VA not DC (unless your're talking about Meth-the white people's drug).

And for relax....hey man if you want to walk through the park with your kids ok go ahead, but thats just weird, you're actually talking about taking a small kid to an open area...they want to run like hell to get the stress of the parents talking to them at home off.

Plain and simple, it's a grouch who has nothing better to do with his/her time. Instead joining in on the fun and meeting people they rather sit back and hide behind a politian (cowardly).

These are children who are spending quality time with their parents and excercising.

In the famous words "can't we all get along".

PS: By the way, the comment on African Americans not able to play in certain fields....that really happens. Haven't you been to a private Golf Club and in Martha Vineyards...there is a Private Tennis Court that doesn't allow blacks.

Oh well...(amen)

Posted by: FrankeytoRelaxandOlddayz | January 24, 2006 4:49 PM

As a public school teacher who has chaperoned a large number of events I can see how people might have a problem with some of the things that accompany these events at venues close to their houses. At a high school where I taught, night-time home football games were often accompanied by chaos in the neighborhood that went on for hours, the parking lots were difficult to police and often required additional police cruisers to be summoned by the officer that was on duty. When I taught in a different local school district varsity home football games were scheduled for day-light hours and there were fewer serious incidents. Considering the escalating seriousness of these events and the greater presence of gangs in suburban areas that it is past time for authorities to take some action.

Posted by: Chris | January 24, 2006 4:57 PM

Looks like Bob Marshall's Anti-Morning After Pill Bill is languishing as well. The things you have to do to keep "The Base" happy...

Posted by: CT | January 24, 2006 5:06 PM

You people are absolutely amazing.

Gangs, alchohol, drugs.....

Fear, fear, fear.....

We are simply talking about children enjoying life.

One minute it's get them from in front of the TV, get them to lose weight, keep them away from gangs.

Now look...

Posted by: Frankey | January 24, 2006 5:10 PM

What's the Base?

Posted by: Frankey to CT | January 24, 2006 5:11 PM

You should check with the best selling author John Grisham. In the mid 90s he moved to Charlottesville and wanted to give the County a top notch Little League facility. He was going to buy the land and build it out of his own pocket. I was dumbfounded when residents near the facility protested it "could attract the wrong element". I think he finally got approval when he agreed to build it without lights. What a bunch of ingrates.

Posted by: John Vittone | January 24, 2006 5:12 PM

To: relax a bit
My son plays two sports - football in autumn and basketball in winter. Both have evening games at local parks. The little kids play earlier, the bigger kids play later, it's the only way to make it work. As for spring and summer - that's when we go camping, cycling, for walks in the park, etc.

What would you suggest I do - tell Chip that he can't play sports at all and should concentrate on video games? Just what we need, more chubby, video game addicted children.

Posted by: Herndon | January 24, 2006 5:14 PM

This is a test

Posted by: Test | January 24, 2006 5:37 PM

Test Again

Posted by: CT | January 24, 2006 6:14 PM

I think the Fisher article and most comments miss a really glaring point.

"The man and his neighbors had lived next to a private school field for years without complaint, until the school, to generate revenue, started renting its playing fields to semi-professional teams."

"'They were practicing and playing all hours of the day and night,' Hull said"

There's a world of difference between a youth league taking advantage of a field, and a field occupied at all hours, perhaps by coaches running drills with whistles.

Perhaps the real problem was that the bill was written to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Posted by: read-the-article | January 24, 2006 7:29 PM

Why is it you're the only one that get's it.

I absolutely hate it when people try and tell others "they don't get the point".

Of course we get the point, the point i don't get is you trying to explain the point.


Posted by: Frankey to Glaring Point | January 25, 2006 11:58 AM

I don't think it's fear, rather I think it's realism. In the past few months we have had a few incidents that have resulted in the deaths of high school students--these incidents involved drugs and/or gangs. In the past 24 hours we've had an 8 year-old with easy access to guns shoot another child--do you think that older children have less access to weapons. In high schools where I have worked only the most serious incidents were reported to police and then usually by parents or staff who did so over the objections of school administrators. We have a system where administrators are afraid to report behavior problems for fear of bad evaluations and a system of escalating behavior problems.

Posted by: Chris | January 25, 2006 1:18 PM

Funny how all of the "incidents" people cite here: gangs, guns, drugs, etc. don't involve the kids (and/or adults) acutally playing sports. Maybe that's the real problem, not enough people playing sports.

Posted by: Jacknut | January 26, 2006 10:09 AM

So what is your point? Gangs, drugs, guns....thats America.

You're not going to go up against the Gun Industry, you're not going to go up against the Drug Industry and you definitely are not going to go up against the Gang world.

So, what do you do? Let the kids play.

Geesh, everybody is looking for a reason not to support this idea of kids playing in a sport field.

Posted by: Frankey to Chris | January 26, 2006 12:19 PM

Control freaks.

Posted by: Solitaire | January 27, 2006 12:26 PM

Well, the evening aspect of it is silly. Kids should be able to play 'til 10 or eleven. But I am fully behind the not before 8 AM aspect. Saturdays are often the only chance for many hard working people to sleep in, and imagine the frustration one must feel to be bombarded with the ping of aluminum bats starting at 6:01 am.

Posted by: DCguy | January 27, 2006 1:01 PM

Maybe I'm a control freak, but any time I hear about a football payer stabbed in Spotsylvania or a football spectator run over at Sherwood or I hear my students talking about fights and parties that have resulted in multiple police cars and occasionally helicopters being called in to their neighborhoods then I think that things have gotten a little out of control. My point is that reasonable, practical steps should be taken to ensure the safety and welfare of children and to ensure that people's property and privacy are not threatend by ravaging hordes of out of control adolescents.

Posted by: Chris | January 27, 2006 1:18 PM

Marc, on this subject, you might want to check out the current controversy in Glover Park over a proposed DCPS/Parks&Rec project to build a rec center to be attached to Stoddert Elementary. During the way, the rec center would be used by the school; in the evening and weekends, it would be a community facility. Opponents of the project say that the rec center will bring more traffic, more parking problems, and "outsiders" into the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Glover Park's children go to school in a building that has only 1/2 of the recommended square footage per student. They hold assemblies and performances in the hallway, & have no gymnasium. And although Glover Parkers have some of the smallest houses in DC, we have no local rec centers to take preschool aged children to for such civilized activities (ubiquitous elsewhere!) as "open gym." Can we not agree to make at least some attempt to keep middle-class families in the city? Really, I think we contribute more than we accept in handouts.

Posted by: Glover Park | January 27, 2006 2:29 PM

I don't mind this bill at all, and I have children. I just wish it included shutting down every mall, car dealer, liquor store, and grocery store, and entertainment venue, giving all workers and parents, and families one day of complete rest.

Posted by: McLean Virginia | January 31, 2006 3:03 PM

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