A slew of individuals attended the Sussex County Council meeting on Oct. 10 to voice their support for a proposed sports complex in Georgetown.
Last month, the Sussex Sports Center Foundation requested that Sussex County financially support their endeavor to build a sports facility for residents’ and visitors’ use in Georgetown, just north of Route 9 on Sandhill Road.
The $4.4-million-dollar project would be located on 70 acres of land donated by Joe Schell to the foundation. It would include playing fields for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and informal touch-football games, as well as walking trails, pickleball courts and playground equipment. The center would have eight regulation-sized soccer/lacrosse fields, paved parking for approximately 350 cars and restroom facilities.
The foundation requested the County help make the project a reality with a donation of $1.5 million, with the option to eventually take over ownership of the athletic and recreation complex.
The council did not make a decision at their September meeting but said they would like to hear from the public, and that they did.
Henlopen Soccer Club Board Member John Robinson said the club is in “dire need” of a well-maintained home, and the sports complex would be just that.
“It would be a wonderful boon for young people here in the county — not only for soccer players, but there will be lacrosse, track, and, I think you’re already going to hear about pickleball.”
Robinson also quoted numbers from an ESPN article from last year showing the impact of soccer on today’s youth.
“In this country, presently, over 20 percent of young people play soccer from ages 6 to 17. That’s in the boys’ category. In the young ladies’ category, it’s 17 percent,” he said. “If you add in track and lacrosse, the totals increase to 40 percent for boys and 37 percent for girls. I’m not sure about the statistics for pickleball, but I do know it’s a fun game.”
Chris Nichols, who also serves on the board of the Henlopen Soccer Club said the complex’s impact would be felt far beyond the time spent on the field. He noted that he and his wife — both Sussex County natives — returned to the area after college to start their business.
“One of the things we struggle with is attracting and keeping professional folks. Believe it or not, the complex will help us all accomplish that, because in order to live here, you have to see yourself here — not see ourselves traveling to Salisbury, or see us traveling to Milford, or to Frederica — but being Sussex Countians, living in this county where we want to play and raise our children,” he said.
“I’m asking you, please: help us let the kids and the families see themselves in Sussex County. Someone has to work at the hospital, someone has to build the houses, someone has to fix the HVAC. Telling them, ‘Do that, and take your kids somewhere else for the weekend’ is not the Sussex County I want to be in. Your sign says you’re my business partner. I’m asking my business partner to approve the complex.”
Kathy Casey, president of the First State Pickleball Club, told the council that, presently, the club has 424 members. She also noted that senior citizens are a significant portion of Sussex County residents.
“I know having an active healthy lifestyle is critical in this population, because we probably represent the biggest chance of disease coming your way. The healthier you keep us, the happier you’ll be,” she said.
“What I see, and why this project is so near and dear to me, is I get to see the joy that is created as a result of having public recreation, where anyone — regardless is socioeconomic status — has the opportunity to go out and play.”
Millsboro resident Marion Lisehora said she picked up pickleball six years ago and has been playing the sport every day since.
“At 86, I am still promoting sports for seniors in Sussex County and the Sussex sports complex that is proposed for pickleball, along with all the field sports, is really something I’m promoting,” she said. “Seniors need something active to do. We are lacking in places to play. Please support another place for us to play where people my age and the younger ones…”
Susan Brooker, who serves on the board of the Delaware Senior Olympics, as well as a USA Pickleball Association ambassador, brought pickleball equipment for the council to check out.
“The money will come back to you,” she asserted. “It isn’t just going to help out seniors.”
Steve Burke, who serves on the board of the Henlopen Soccer Club and the board of the Sussex Sports Center Foundation, and serves on the Sussex Academy School Board, said the complex would be a great asset to kids throughout the county.
Burke said the club, which was founded in 1996, has 1,300 players, with about 2,500 parents supporting the organization.
“We don’t turn away any children from playing the sport of soccer. We believe it develops our players, adds to their quality of life and develops them into meaningful adults.”
Having lost its home about a year ago, the club has had to divide up and play at various locations, which he said makes it difficult logistically, but has also raised injury concerns, as not all areas upon which they now play are ideal.
He noted that the board of the Henlopen Soccer Club has decided to unanimously support the complex, and to arrange its fee structure, based on its current numbers, to contribute up to $50,000 per year of ongoing support for the complex.
“We understand this is a difficult position. We understand the investment is tough for you to justify, but we ask you help us support the position and help us financially support the infrastructure that is needed for the complex.”
Councilman Rob Arlett asked where in the process the County is, in terms of discussing whether or not to contribute financial support to the project.
County Administrator Todd Lawson said the County would be accepting comments regarding the complex through the month of October.
“There’s no hard deadline, but I do think they do want a decision,” he said.
Arlett said he has more questions and would like the issue placed back on the council agenda.
Councilman George Cole asked if the item needed to be placed on the agenda or if it could be a discussion in an executive session.
County Solicitor J. Everett Moore Jr. said the discussion would have to be conducted in a public forum.
The council agreed to place the sports complex on a future agenda for discussion.
Those who wish to email comments may do so online at https://sussexcountyde.gov/comments-sports-complex or by mailing comments to Sussex County Council, P.O. Box 589, Georgetown, DE 19947. For more information on the project, visit https://sussexcountyde.gov/news/feedback-proposed-sports-complex.
By Maria Counts