A private children's soccer club has vacated six fields in New Albany rather than pay the Plain Local Joint Parks District an additional $25,000 for field upkeep.

New Albany's parks director said his staff wanted more money to cover the newly reassessed maintenance expenses for the coming season. Some parents, however, say they were being asked to pay for the fields twice -- via the fee and park district taxes.

"Because the parks can't work things out with the clubs, it's the kids who suffer," said Tony Iovino, as his 9-year-old son dribbled the ball across the fresh-cut grass behind Franklin United Brethren Church.

Players for the Freedom Soccer Club started their training camp at two church yards last month instead of the village fields they had used for five years.
Club administrators said they decided they couldn't ask members for more money. The park district's fee would have meant an extra $110 per member for mowing the grass, painting lines and other maintenance. Families already were paying the club about $1,000 for membership and equipment, including a combined $11,000 to rent the park district's fields.

The club's professional coaches run more than 20 teams for school-age girls and boys. The older teams will have to play all their games away because regulation-size fields won't fit on the church yards.

Each park system in central Ohio uses a different rental schedule -- by the hour, by night, by league, by sport, by residency, by nonprofit status.

It would cost Freedom only slightly less in Gahanna and Westerville. Dublin fees would be almost as high as New Albany's, but the city has waived the upkeep costs for the nonprofit clubs on its fields.

Freedom soccer is a for-profit league, but is applying for nonprofit status.

"When a for-profit company comes in, they have a responsibility to pay," said Steve Locker, a former Harvard University coach who runs a for-profit soccer academy in Powell. "These clubs have gotten quite spoiled."

New Albany Parks Director Dave Wharton said his staff members were shocked this year when they reviewed how much taxpayer money went to maintaining the fields Freedom used.

Wharton noted that about three in four of the children in the club are from New Albany, meaning their parents pay park district property taxes.

It's against the rules in Ohio for more than five students from one high school to be on one team during the off season. That means high-school students from New Albany can't play for
Freedom without teenagers from other cities, Club Director Jeff Bennett said.

Wharton said the district will not change the new fee and plans to use the opportunity to improve the vacant fields this year.

"We're hoping, in the future, they return," he said.

Bennett's response: "If the amount of money doesn't change, no way."