Neighborhood fights to keep soccer field for the community

Drive past this soccer field behind Harriet Tubman Elementary school in Columbia Heights on any night, you'll see a soccer match going on.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - A few years ago, nobody cared about the soccer field at Harriet Tubman Elementary School. It wasn't much more than dirt and grass when people in the Columbia Heights neighborhood started playing there. 

On any given night, neighbors come together to play pickup soccer games. Most of the players are Latino, part of the diverse neighborhood there. 

"I was born and raised here. We know when you want a good pickup game, this is the place to come," said Omar Gonzalez. 

It wasn't until the field became nicer that organized soccer leagues began to take interest in it. The leagues started applying with the city to use it. There's a law, created back in the 1980s, that allows the city to lease school property. 

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Recently, a team with ZogSports DC came to the field, letting the community players know they were permitted to play there because they had gone through the city. It was shocking to the pickup players who had been playing there for decades. 

"We wrote letters, we called our local ANC chair, just to make sure our voices were heard," said Gonzalez. 

Their voices were heard. After thousands of signatures through an online petition, ZogSports decided it would no longer use the field. 

A spokesperson for the company sent this statement Monday: 

ZogSports will no longer be using the field at Harriet Tubman Elementary School. When we applied for the permit, we didn’t know it would come at the expense of residents’ opportunity to play. We believe strongly in the idea that everyone deserves a space to play and we’re sorry for the disruption caused by our league.

 We care about the communities in which we play and hope that the residents who have been using the field for so many years are able to continue doing so for many years to come.

The spokesperson says the permit for the field was already paid for, so they don't expect to get anything back. 

Gonzalez and other neighbors say they were never out to make anyone a villain, they simply wanted to see the right thing done. 

"It was never about winning or losing for us. It was about being fair," he said. 

Gonzalez and other community members plan to meet with city leaders in the coming weeks to discuss the current permitting law in hopes of making some changes. 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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