Flag League Breaks Through; AAL Still Acreage Cornerstone

The Acreage Community Park north athletic complex after the recent renovations.

The grass is looking green and the future bright for Acreage Community Park with the completion in March of a $580,000 renovation to the north fields and $3 million upgrade getting underway soon at its southern end.

“We’re excited about the renovations to the north fields,” said Wendy Tirado, acting president of the Acreage Athletic League, which kicked off its 2023 flag football season March 4 following 10 months of major upgrades to electrical and drainage systems, lights and scoreboards, plus a complete resodding.

Improvements on the south end will include an artificial turf, regulation-size football field, new bathrooms, equestrian parking for better access to the trails, new lighting and the construction of a new skate park.

But on the sidelines and behind the bleachers, a schism has broken open between members of the AAL, which has run youth sports in the area for three decades, and the upstart Breakthru Athletic League, which has taken its flags and footballs and some 330 players and moved on.

Led by former AAL flag football president Samantha “Sam” Harris, Breakthru players practice at Western Pines Middle School and play their games at Seminole Ridge High School.

Breakthru, which hosted its first season in 2022 under the auspices of NFL Flag, plays 5-on-5 in games divided into boys and girls, said Chris Harris, Sam’s husband and president of the league. They began their 2023 season April 1, with their “Super Bowl Tournament” set for May 20.

The acrimony generated by the split has spilled onto the dais of the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors, which is charged with overseeing parks for the area’s 45,000 citizens. The AAL operates youth sports in The Acreage under a long-standing service provider agreement (SPA) with the district.

At a January board meeting, Supervisor Patricia Farrell suggested there is a “vendetta” against the founders of Breakthru and their supporters.

“Some people are more negative,” said Chris Harris, who has operated Nomad Mobile Fitness at Acreage Community Park since 2014. “We’re pretty chill people… We’re focused on the kids.”

While pointing out that her children grew up playing AAL sports, Farrell said, “We have a responsibility to make sure [the AAL] is following through on its SPA.”

Tirado joined the AAL’s executive board in 2016 and was named acting president in November when Carlos Castillo resigned. An election will be held in July when this former flag football “team mom,” coach and board member will seek a full, four-year term.

“We want to create a safe, fun atmosphere for kids,” said Tirado, who has seen each of her four children enjoy AAL programs. “Our main goal, no matter what, is to do something that gets them outdoors.”

Tirado’s husband, Alex, was a prime mover behind the addition of basketball to the AAL’s roster of programs, which include girls and co-ed 7-on-7 flag football, tackle football, soccer, baseball and softball.

Basketball “has exceeded our expectations,” said Tirado, explaining that 90 kids signed up the first year and 180 the second year with 240 expected to tip-off the 2023 season in June.

Approximately 600 young athletes participate in AAL programs overall, she said, adding that she hopes the AAL can add more sports, including wrestling and rugby, along with fishing, archery and running clubs.

“We’re doing our best,” said Tirado, a Miami native who has lived in the area since 2009. “There are ups and downs… [but] there’s an opportunity for the league to continue growing. That’s our goal.”

Chris Harris said Breakthru has similar goals and may seek to add lacrosse. “We don’t want to get in over our head,” he said. “Our goal now is to increase participation in flag football.”

The AAL is in discussions with ITID about renewing its SPA, Tirado said.

Policies for the district’s nine parks and the Hamlin House multi-use facility need an overall review “not aimed at any one organization or person,” ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson has said.

“Our parks are beautiful. We have a lot of things at our parks,” Supervisor Keith Jordano said at a recent board meeting. “There’s no reason we can’t have things at our park that can bring in money to make them self-sufficient.”

ITID has spent $7 million on its parks over the last five years, according to Jordano.

At a recent board meeting, he suggested that parks-related programs should go out for bid, including the services provider agreements.

“We need to start bringing in money for our parks, so our residents don’t have to keep paying all this money,” he said.

ITID Vice President Betty Argue, who has worked closely with AAL for years, said there is no reason to shift away from the all-volunteer organization made up mostly of parents.

“The district is not here to make money,” she said. “[But] we need to have a very robust discussion about what is appropriate and what isn’t.”

A series of ITID board workshops has been suggested as a way to “get a handle” on the use of park policies and the use of recreation facilities, Hanson said, but so far none have been scheduled.

Among the issues the workshops could cover are: limits on use and sales of alcohol at the parks; creating tiers of fees depending on the size of gatherings; limiting use of the parks to district residents; requiring liability insurance for smaller gatherings; redefining what constitutes an event as opposed to a simple gathering and what that means in terms of facilities use; fees for the use of the Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park as a de facto training facility; and improved security not only for events but also for ITID property.

“We’ve seen the fields get torn up, people jumping fences, playing on them and we get left holding the bag for the taxpayers to fix it,” Hanson said.

Already, during the renovation of the park’s north fields, security fencing was added to deter the riding of horses or ATVs on the fields; and ITID continues to work with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to install video cameras at all its parks, Hanson said.

Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando, who recently hosted the Barky Pines 5K at Acreage Community Park, is proud of the facility. “The park looks great,” she said, adding that she is eager to find more ways to encourage residents to use the park.

She suggested frequent 5Ks and the revival of movie nights at the park. The movie nights ceased during the pandemic and have not been revived.

“People came out. It was a lot of fun,” Accomando recalled. “It’s something that doesn’t cost the district a ton of money to put together… yet it’s a great way to get the community together.”

Barky Pines also will be hosting an Easter Egg Hunt at the park on Saturday, April 8 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.