County Councilwoman Gwen Kennedy says no to lacrosse

COLUMBIA – Alex Oakes has two kids who attend Blythewood schools and play in Richland County’s youth lacrosse league. Sean King has another.

Their children are among the 31 county youths who compete weekly in a sport where the only thing faster than action on the field is lacrosse’s growth in popularity. The league is doing well with both teams undefeated.

But it’s action off the field that’s threatening to turn the league into a spectator sport.

In the latest faceoff involving Richland County recreation, a dispute over lacrosse matches at Meadowlake Park has some Blythewood parents crying foul over a county councilwoman’s effort to stop the games.

“There are a lot of kids who are getting scholarships from this sport,” Oakes, a resident of Ashley Oaks, said. “A lot of schools are adding this sport to their program.”

Things reached a boiling point on April 22.

About 45 minutes into Saturday’s competition, Richland County Councilwoman Gwen Kennedy arrived, saying she had received complaints from some Meadowlake residents about the lacrosse competition.

Kennedy said players and parents weren’t authorized to be there.

League organizers said they told Kennedy they sought and received formal permission to use the field from the Richland County Recreation Commission, which for the time being remains under state control.

That’s when, parents say, Kennedy pledged to lobby for an end to lacrosse once recreation commission control returns to Richland County.

“Everyone was kind of stunned,” King said. “People asked if we got it on video, but we were just in shock. We didn’t think to document her behavior.”

Kennedy acknowledges she supports the county taking over recreation, but denies voicing any political motivations in the lacrosse dispute aside from addressing constituent concerns. She said the lacrosse games were interfering with their ability to enjoy the park.

“Nobody contacted them (homeowners) that it might interrupt activities. Nobody knew what was going on,” Kennedy, who represents part of Blythewood, told The Voice. “There were 20 cars out there and nobody knew what was going on.

“Furthermore, there was nobody there from the [Meadowlake] area playing on the teams,” she continued. “Why were they here from Lexington in Meadowlake Park, taking up space where the kids are playing football?”

King said there were players from Lexington and Irmo-Chapin present because they’re among three teams that compete in doubleheaders. Richland County is the other. He also said Meadowlake Park is a public park, not a private facility only open to certain people.

King also disputes the assertion that lacrosse hindered park access. He noted at the time, three baseball fields were completely empty, and there were people walking around the track that circles the lacrosse field.

“How can kids using facilities run through the county and sanctioned by the recreation commission be a negative thing?” King said. “We had 31 kids playing who are all residents of Richland County. Four live in Ms. Kennedy’s district.”

While the outburst seems like an isolated incident, concerned parents fear it’s indicative of larger problems they say still loom large over Richland County recreation.

James Brown III, the commission’s former executive director, was indicted in October 2016 on charges of misconduct in office and intimidation of a state’s witness.

The case is still pending, according to the Richland County Public Index.

A month later, former Gov. Nikki Haley issued an executive order authorizing the ejection of five of seven recreation commission members amid complaints of nepotism and neglect of duty.

The state later set up a committee to review applications for the board, a process that’s still in place.

Several bipartisan bills calling for the state to devolve oversight of the commission to Richland County Council have been filed in the General Assembly. But they all remained stalled in committee as of press time.

Since the state takeover, parents say the commission has been functioning with professionalism. Some contend Kennedy’s outburst was more about politics and reflective of her personal agenda to take control of the commission.

“I think it’s about nepotism, I think it’s about trying to put their pursuits, friends, families in the forefront of their own agenda,” Oakes said. “I think her (Kennedy’s) agenda is that she wants to be in control. She doesn’t like the fact she has constituents in Meadowlake that call and complain, and she can’t do anything about it.”

Kennedy acknowledges she’s eager for the commission to fall under county control, but she denies charges of nepotism and politics.

“Certainly if we’re going to pay that much money for the parks, sure I’m in favor of controlling it (the commission),” Kennedy said. “It’s the manner in which it (lacrosse) was done. It was not inclusive.”

According to King, however, on Feb 9, an email announcing the league was sent to previous participants in the Richland County Rec sanctioned league or program.
“We reached out through social media, school districts, and RCRC email blasts to get kids involved. This is how every league/program for RCRC is communicated. There were no tryouts. Everyone was welcome to participate,” King said.

Comments

  1. Lamont Cranston says

    Every person in Richland County who pays taxes have a right to use the parks. If people or organizations pay for the use and reserve the field that is in line with the policies of the Rec Commission. No one has priority over anyone else no matter if you live next door or outside the county. If you pay the fees, file the paperwork, and follow the rules you shouldn’t get hassled. You should definitely not get hassled by an elected official who has kids in her district playing in the league. Self serving politics as usual rather than taking care of our children and their future.

  2. Thomas Jones says

    The league was done 100% inclusively. On Feb 9 an email announcing the league was sent to every previous participant in the Richland County Rec sanctioned league or program. This is how every league and program for RCRC are communicated. This league was no different. The registration fee was $85 and there were no tryouts. Everyone was welcome to particpate. These are facts that are glaringly missing in this article.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says

    Can we get a competent person to run against Gwen Kennedy? I’m sick and tired of this thug strutting in with her agenda. If I don’t run against her myself, I’m going to make damn sure she loses. I don’t care how much money it takes.

    • Tyrone Jenkins says

      My relative plays on this team. These are good boys. They’re starting a girls league as well. Maybe we could pay Gwen off, or maybe we should drain the swamp. I pay taxes in this county. Blythewood born and raised. This is sick.

  4. Felicia Griffin says

    I am the mother of an elementary aged child who plays sports at Meadowlake. I was excited to see a new sport at the park that wasn’t the leading sport in concussions or only had 5 or 9 kids on the field. Lacrosse gets kids running and exercising. It has 10 kids on the field and needs a team of at least 16 because they run so much. Basketball is a lot of running both only for 8-10 kids. Baseball involves almost no running.
    We spoke with the team in late March and they were very welcoming and told us if we wanted to join at that time we could but I was worried my son would be too far behind. The team told us there would be another free clinic in May. We planned to go to the clinic and then play rec in the fall. Now it seems that an elected official has decided they don’t want that opportunity for my son or other kids his age.
    They are even adding girls in the fall. When was the last time you saw a new sport for girls at Meadowlake? This behavior by people with nothing better to do than find things to complain about and then sending someone to do their dirty work is shameful. The ones who lose are the kids because people who claim to be the majority and elected officials who react to every complaint instead of actually polling their constituents decide to fight something they didn’t bother to try to understand.
    Come 2020 elections I won’t forget who chose to listen to those who want to tear things down instead of build things up.

  5. Linda LaRose says

    Please, please, please let’s build a field in Winnsboro and invite all these people to come!!! This is how Florence was able to go from a podunk little no-account town to a happening thriving place with people coming for tournaments, staying in hotels, spending money hand over fist. It starts with the children, builds with the arts, and before you know it, all boats rise. I know I have a lot of cliches here, but they are cliches because there is truth in them. We are not making it with just our citizens. We need people to come in and spend their time and cash, bringing more opportunities to the children who live here and their parents. If you don’t want these young motivated athletes, vying for scholarships, then we will take them gladly.

    • Patti Wilkes says

      During the public meetings our county council held across the county I asked that they look into this very thing. The Upward complex in the Spartanburg/Greenville area is phenomenal. It was built and the people surely do attend. Come on Fairfield County. Let’s get in front of this!!

  6. Jerry Rega says

    So now children playing in a park is a serious problem for Gwen Kennedy. It’s just one more reason to vote Kennedy off council!

  7. Tommy Middleton says

    Okay, this is nuts. Not only does this seem super petty, it is clearly motivated by something other than good sense and reason. This is a publically owned recreational park. Gwen Kennedy needs a reality check. A few homeowners in the vacinity of the park do not get to dictate what happens at the park just because they happen to live nearby. Obviously, if the lacrosse organization had NOT received approval AND they were interfering with other activities, then there would be an issue to deal with. But the solution to that issue would still not be to “lobby” against lacrosse. That is absurd. But that is even a moot point considering that it appears that t the lacrosse organization did everything correctly. What in the world is going on in Richland County?

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