Youth soccer goals unsecured despite promises from elected officials

8:52 AM, Oct 12, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Florida -- Eight months after the 10 News Investigators brought dangerous soccer goals to the attention of local cities and counties, few municipalities have gotten the message.

Every soccer post and every league's bylaws come with warnings that goals should be anchored to the ground at all times.  Kids can easily tip over - and get hurt from - the several-hundred-pound objects if not secured down by screws, chains, or sandbags.

Photo Gallery: Soccer goal nets pose safety hazards

Nearly 100 children have been injured or killed by soccer goals in the last three decades, including Polk County's Corey Hawk in 2007.

But despite promises from elected officials and city/county staffers around Tampa Bay to address the risk last spring, nearly every field inspected by the 10 News Investigators this fall had heavy goals unsecured.

Often, goals are left dangerously unanchored because maintenance crews remove sandbags or screws to mow.

PASCO COUNTY

At Jack Mitchell Park and the John Testa Fields, where 10 News warned commissioners of unanchored goals twice, few goals were secured during the day, when kids could play without adult supervision.

During league practices in the evening, 10 News saw many coaches and referees knocking stakes into the ground midway through practice, but none appeared to be in-place at the start of practice.

One coach said he didn't utilize the provided sandbags unless the goals were "in-use," although on the night 10 News visited, the kids on his team were swinging from the nets of the unanchored goal.

County Commissioner Henry Wilson acknowledged it was a problem and said county administrators needed to communicate better with the leagues.  But messages left with the West Pasco Youth Soccer president went unreturned.

"Our Parks & Rec department needs to talk to those soccer clubs and if they're not staking down the goals, then there needs to be repercussions," Wilson said.

The lack of repercussions seems to be a major factor in why goals remain unsecured in so many places.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

10 News found unanchored goals at fields controlled by the county, the City of Tampa, and City of Temple Terrace.

In Tampa, the city's Park & Recreation director said the goals were unanchored because fields are often used by multiple sports and teams don't always leave goals the way they found them.  So starting immediately, the city will be locking goals to fences unless there is an approved soccer event taking place.

At several county fields, sandbags were available, yet the majority of goals were unsecured.

In February, Commissioner Sandy Murman said the county was "taking every step to make sure we have a permanent solution in place" and - with the county administrator - ordered leagues to find full-time anchoring solutions.

But with few in place, Murman coordinated with Deputy County Administrator for Public Safety & Community Services Sharon Subaden for a new policy shift.

"A recent re-inspection found that most leagues were in compliance; however, some of the organizations were not," Subaden wrote Murman's office in an e-mail this week.  "County staff worked directly with these organizations to once again ensure that the goals were compliance.

"In order to maintain the highest safety standards, a weekly inspection of all soccer goals will begin immediately, and soccer goal safety will be incorporated into our Preventative Maintenance (PM) inspection sheets.  Each infraction will be documented and leagues notified to implement corrective actions immediately.  Where necessary, the County will follow up and anchor all goals should the leagues fail to do so and leagues will be billed for the associated costs."

PINELLAS COUNTY

The youth soccer fields in Pinellas Park were the only field in full compliance with anchoring rules, as every goal was secured to the ground.

And while sandbags were present at Puryear Park in St. Petersburg, many had been removed, either by county workers or players.  10 News found a number of goals unanchored, with many more anchored by too few sandbags.

POLK COUNTY

In Lake Wales, where Corey Hawk was killed, many of the home-made goals were replaced with heavy PVC pipes secured into the ground.  But at the county-run Loyce E. Harpe Park in Mulberry, some nets remained unanchored despite plenty of nearby sandbags.

LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS

Three states have recently passed legislation to mandate goal-anchoring, but Florida is not one of them.  And given the anti-regulation momentum in Tallahassee, a new law would be a tough sell.

"The problem with bills like this, is it can be construed that you're over-regulating," said State Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs.  "But...I would hate to see another child get hurt (or) killed because someone refused to pick up a sandbag and put it there."

Nehr has sponsored several child safety bills, including "Rachel's Law," a booster seat law, and a child restraint law.

He promised to explore the soccer goal issue and 10 News will be following up with all parties again to make sure local soccer fields remain safe for kids.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.

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