A Hidden Cost

Roberto Vazquez

Games Matter

It was 3 p.m. on a recent Saturday at Marina Vista Park. The weather was warm and sunny, perfect conditions for family time and a rugby match.

Wearing a Belmont Shore Rugby hoodie, Manuel Rodriguez and his wife, Sindy, looked on from the sidelines of a match pitting Belmont Shore versus St. Anthony.

“I love the environment here,” Rodriguez said, referring to Marina Vista Park. As he spoke, a toothy smile spread across his face and he crossed his arms, content with life.

Rodriguez and his wife have three sons participating in Belmont Shore Rugby. Rodriguez added, “Next year, my fourth son will start playing, too,” with a gleam of pride in his eyes.

Just as Rodriguez spoke, the crowd cheered in unison, on cue, Belmont Shore scored a “drop kick goal”.

When Rodriguez turned back again, the expression on his face said it all: rugby is awesome.

In rugby, the ball moves at an alarming speed, snaking up and down the playing field. The bone jarring collisions, like a human version of demolition derby, draw gasps of delight.

No wonder it’s one of the fastest growing sports among youths.

Then, Rodriguez spoke again.

This time, however, his words were heavier, more pensive, reflective of his experience as a father and as a man.

Rodriguez explained it perfectly, “It’s really familial... It’s like a brotherhood with the boys.”

Perhaps his words also explain the phenomenal growth of both rugby and lacrosse in a rapidly changing nation.

However, Rodriguez’ joy was short lived, tackled by the news that the playing field area would soon be removed as part of the $26.3 million restoration project, reuniting the Colorado Lagoon, Marine Stadium and Alamitos Bay, scheduled for construction in 2022.

“I’m kinda in shock. What’s gonna happen next season? Where’s this money coming from?” Standing near Rodriguez and his wife was Carolyn Leonard.

Leonard said, “I’m here to watch my grandson play. I haven’t heard anything in the news, nothing. Not through the media, Facebook, not anything. You’re the first. I’d like to know where the kids will play rugby.”

The Hidden Costs of COVID

In many regions, the COVID pandemic forced closures of gyms, swimming pools, and parks, as part of social distancing guidelines.

The effects of such measures didn’t take long to create widespread displeasure among the general public.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the shutdown of schools and team sports, “kept people from being active in ways that offer physical and mental well-being”.

The need to socialize and be outdoors skyrocketed after the restrictions were imposed, leading to an increased demand for sports and recreational activities, such as the bicycle boom of 2020.

The bicycle demand was actually the first hint of the ensuing COVID and supply chain crises; demand for bicycles outpaced supplies as people sought relief, through exercise, from the stress and anxieties of COVID isolation and social distancing.

The need for exercise and recreational activities cannot be minimized. A 2018 report by the Center for Disease Control And Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found increased physical activity improved cognition, increased and improved sleep, reduced anxiety, decreased the risk of depression and decreased the development of dementia.

As Michael Tate and his son, David, walked along a trail at sunset, he grew upset learning the channel project might affect the playground area. Tate explains his son is non-communicative. “They call it autism. I call it vaccine injury.”

Tate, who supported the dredging of the lagoon, added, “I thought it might require them to take out the baseball field. I don’t understand the parks and the ADA,” referring to the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990. “It’s already ADA approved.”

Tate, who opposes the open channel project, said, “I just don’t see the need for an open channel.”

Changing Times

In contrast, Kurt and Sarah Ehmann are for the open channel. Sarah Ehmann observed, “It (the park) looks so barren now.” Her husband certainly won’t miss the baseball field.

He said, “I coached Pony and Little League for 15 years and I never used this field. It was just in terrible shape. There’s no maintenance.” He sees the channel project as a great opportunity to start over.

“They could turf that area, invest money… lighting would be phenomenal!”

He adds, “I think it’s gonna add some great value to the community.”

They both agreed the current baseball field is not used regularly and that other sports, such as rugby and lacrosse, seem more prevalent with this generation of youth.

Research indicates these are two of the fastest growing sports among youths over the last decade, in addition to soccer.

Recreation Reinvented

Section 3152 of the city’s Local Coastal Program requires “study and planning to coordinate improvement and management of water quality, ecology, and recreational uses”.

Kelly Moriarty noticed a difference in the way the park is used for recreational purposes these days.

The Long Beach resident said, “I’ve been coming to this park for years. I used to think it was underutilized, in general. However, since the pandemic there are a lot more people outdoors, in gatherings, being active…”

Whatever the future may hold, Marina Vista Park will continue to be a source of joy and entertainment for families and the greater community.

Manuel Rodriguez describes it best, “One of the best things here is it’s multicultural. Everybody respects everyone else. That’s what I love!”


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