A decision by the Dawson County Parks and Recreation board to work with a new soccer club has some parents and coaches questioning where their children will play this fall.
Parks director Lisa Henson announced last week the board is negotiating with Forsyth County-based United Futbol Academy to take over the county’s youth soccer program in September.
With the vote, the board also agreed to end a field use agreement with Dawson County United Soccer Club, which has overseen the youth soccer program since 2007.
Henson said the board’s expectations of growing the program exceed United Soccer’s scope of experience.
“When we’re not seeing the results we need, we have to make a change, and I think this is the best move for the Dawson County soccer community,” she said.
Henson also said late payments for field use, delays in game scheduling and a poor relationship with the school system contributed to the switch.
Anton Sieber, president and managing director for Dawson County United, said he was “blindsided” by the board’s move.
“We learned about this when we walked into Lisa’s office on Wednesday,” he said.
Henson said after more than a year of failed negotiations with Dawson County United, the move should come as no surprise.
“We’ve been mediating issues for more than a year,” she said. “There have been numerous meetings, meetings with the parks board, numerous phone calls and conversations about the issues.”
Sieber acknowledged there have been some growing pains.
“But in three years, there has never been a formal or informal declaration that the scheduling difficulties or paying for the park usage fee at the end of the season were unacceptable,” he said.
Parents began contacting Sieber as soon as they learned of the news, he said.
“They’re upset and they’re shocked,” he said.
Alison Blythe is one of those caught off guard.
A volunteer coach whose eight children have gone through the program, Blythe said the concern from parents is twofold.
She said there’s a fear that the cost will increase at the competition level, “that and just the camaraderie that you can have with a small, local group.”
Sieber said the issue is not about Dawson United losing the contract.
“Nothing would make me happier than to push the program further,” he said. “If an organization will take the Dawsonville league further, I’ll sign on.”
But selling the fields to an “out-of-county outfit” could force kids not to play because of the higher price, Sieber said.
Warren King, chairman of the parks board, said in a statement that the academy has agreed to abide by the current fee structure to keep soccer affordable.
“We are fortunate to have an organization of this caliber establish a presence in Dawson County. It will open many doors to the Dawson County soccer community,” King said.
Henson said the reputation of United Futbol Academy, the third largest soccer club in Georgia, is “unmatched.”
Academy officials have also pledged to work with the Dawson County school system to advance the sport to middle and high school levels of play.
In a statement, Dawson County High School soccer coach Jed Lacey hailed the change as “great news for Dawson County.”
“United FA is a top-notch club with great leadership,” he said. “You will see the recreational aspects of the Dawson program leap to the next level under UFA.
“We look forward to great community relations and a strong partnership with the new club.”
Sieber said Dawson United will not give up on its players and is hoping to find private land for new soccer fields.
“We do have a tremendous amount of support. As many as maybe 80 percent of our players are looking to stay a part of Dawson United,” he said.
On Saturday, a group of parents plans to take on the fight, according to Sieber.
“There are e-mails flying around about a formal protest from 10-12 outside or near the office at Rock Creek Park,” he said.
The park system is also planning a town hall meeting for parents and their children to learn more about United Futbol Academy, meet its representatives and hear about plans for local soccer programming.
“In addition to all the negative calls, we’ve received as many calls and e-mails from parents that are excited about the opportunity,” Henson said.
The town hall meeting dates have not been set.