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Facilities for some youth sports in Tyrone becoming harder to find

The small town of Tyrone has become a Pennsylvania high school football hotbed for over a decade, built from rich tradition and a lengthy past. Sports can be an important part of a child’s upbringing.
Many of the young men who have worn the orange and black of Tyrone High got their start in the youth football program. A good youth program in any sport produces a similar outcome at the high school level.
As with any sport, football practice is where kids learn the X’s and O’s of the game. Recently, some of Tyrone’s youth football teams are finding it more difficult to locate property to practice on.
Some teams practice out at the Gardners Candies factory and Dixon Tool and Die, some hone their skills by the Neptune Fire Hall and at the high school girls softball fields, as did a few teams practice at the old Shea Field.
The Shea Field property is owned by American Eagle Paper Mill, but the company has now temporarily locked its gates due to an insurance and liability issue between the mill and Tyrone Borough.
American Eagle Paper Mill President John Ferner said that the company sent a lease to be signed by the borough in 2006 and again in the spring of 2008, but has yet to receive a signed lease back. Due to an unsigned lease, the mill maintains the liability and insurance at Shea Field.
“We want the field to be used by the youth, but we just can’t do it with the liability,” stated Ferner. “It’ll be open in two seconds once the borough signs the lease.”
Borough Manager Sharon Dannaway said that the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg doesn’t show record of the paper mill owning the property at Shea Field, which is why the borough hasn’t signed the lease. Although the mill insists they own the property, the borough has no paperwork stating that they do.
“We have our solicitor Larry Clapper working on it right now,” said Dannaway. “Once we establish that the mill is the owner of the property, we will sign the lease.”
The youth Vikings football team and the pee wee Steelers squad were using Shea Field up until this week, and mill officials plan on allowing the teams to resume practicing on the field once the company’s situation is resolved with the borough.
The Northern Blair Recreation Center offered its field on Wednesday for the teams, but it is not a permanent solution.
The youth and pee wee football teams play their games at the high school’s soccer field, but that space is limited to games only.
With limited space in the Tyrone area and eight youth football teams, there are roughly 35 boys from two teams with nowhere to consistently practice to keep furthering the storied tradition that is “Team, Toughness, Tyrone.”
Youth football isn’t the only sport in Tyrone that has to worry about locking in a place to practice, which has some youth coaches and parents concerned about the future of youth sports in the community. It’s not that there isn’t facilities to use, but perhaps it’s the need for more.
Kevin Soellner, who coaches youth football and is involved with many of the youth sports leagues in Tyrone, said that the presidents in all of the youth leagues, along with Tyrone Mayor Jim Kilmartin, are working on finding an answer to this growing problem.
The need for “help” is the main part of that solution.
Some people have said that the school district could have the answer, or the borough, but it might take a community effort to find an area to build needed sports facilities.
Soellner noted that the two youth football teams tried to practice at the high school soccer field once they were barred from Shea Field, but were quickly kicked off the field they play their games on. He wasn’t sure if it was a liability issue, security problem, or if the school district just didn’t want the kids on the field more than they need to be.
“The thing I don’t understand is that we are covered by our insurance I believe,” said Soellner. “As far as our leagues playing up there and practicing sometimes, I don’t see why it can’t be worked out as a permanent solution.”
Tyrone Area High School Athletic Director, Tom Coleman, said that the only reason the teams were removed from the soccer field this week was due to the field not being an “assigned area” for youth football to practice on.
“We designate areas over the summer before the season comes up,” said Coleman. “Youth football and AYSO soccer volunteers sign a use of facility agreement, which designated youth football to practice on the girls softball fields and AYSO soccer to practice on the J.V. baseball field.”
He added, “We do the best we can at the school district. There’s a lot of teams in the community, so we offer as many facilities as we can.”
The school district has its own teams to practice on its fields, which can make it even more difficult for youth teams to get practice time. Coleman said that the point of creating a use of facility agreement was to try and eliminate the confusion.
Tyrone Mayor Jim Kilmartin said he is “very interested” in seeing something happen and be developed for youth sports in Tyrone. He would like to see a youth sports complex be developed for all sports, including biking and skating.
“We’re presently looking for property and land, whether it’s from the borough or from private entities,” stated Kilmartin.
But finding land has become the biggest obstacle thus far for Kilmartin, Soellner, and other youth sports parents and coaches involved. Ultimately, it might take a private landowner or business to step up to the plate and assist the youth sports programs.
Kilmartin said that youth sports are “essential” to the Tyrone community, because it provides an opportunity for kids to be active and participate in team oriented sports.
“It’s very important to the development of kids,” said Kilmartin. “Our community embraces sports so much, it really is important.”