Opinion: Let’s Keep Soccer Fun For All In Belmont

Photo: Belmont High School Girls’ Soccer.

By: Adriaan Lanni

As a Belmont soccer mom and former college player, I am incredibly proud of the U.S. World Cup team, which stands up for equality off the field and plays the game beautifully on it. But the inspiration of the Women’s World Cup obscures a troubling trend in American youth soccer—one that has a particularly strong impact on affluent towns like ours.

There is an arms race to produce future World Cup stars that filters down throughout the system. When I drive by Belmont High School over the summer, I often see private coaches leading young kids in one-on-one workouts. My family is not immune; we pay $3,000 a year for my 12 year-old daughter to play on a club soccer team. In a sport which relies on the slow acquisition of uncanny foot skills, club soccer has come to feel nearly obligatory for kids aiming at their high school varsity team. State and national rankings are available for club teams starting with the under-11s. And this competitiveness is tied, inevitably, to anxiety about college admissions. The surest path to a college scholarship is offered by “development academy” teams, which are so serious that players are not allowed to play for their high school (i.e., with their friends). 

This pressure might be OK for kids who have a shot at playing at the very highest levels.  But it’s terrible for everyone else. Regular participation of 6 to 12-year-olds in the U.S. dropped 14 percent between 2016 and 2018, as kids who can’t afford or don’t want to join the arms race quit. Even the club soccer “success” stories come at a price. I played in the Olympic Development Program and was recruited to play college soccer, the Holy Grail for many club soccer parents today.  But the game had begun to seem like a job, and I quit my college team after two seasons.  And this was when the soccer arms race was in its infancy before it sucked in players unlikely to advance in the sport. 

Watching my daughter today, I worry that many kids are missing out on the game’s real greatness.  Soccer is one of the few sports that people of all ages play on a casual, “pick-up” basis.  It is also a game that, unlike basketball or softball, typically requires intricate teamwork to produce even a single goal.  And because a good goal is like a little work of art that we create with other people, there is nothing I know of that brings people together so quickly.  You can see this in what Megan Rapinoe called the “explosion of joy” that often accompanies a goal—and not just in the World Cup.  I met my husband playing soccer, and I have joined pickup games all over the world with complete strangers.  In a world of careful, cultivated relationships, the impromptu fellowship of casual soccer is a wonderful thing. 

Without all the external pressures, and now well into middle age, I have rediscovered my love for soccer. The Boston area has outdoor and indoor leagues for women of all ages and skill levels (if you want to play let me know: I’ll gladly help you find a team or a regular pickup group). This month, Lancaster hosted the Soccerfest, a national tournament with women’s divisions ranging from over-30 to over-70 (!); teams travel from as far as Texas and Hawaii.  I am as excited to play with my over-40 team of local moms as I have been about any soccer game.  Recently I was playing in a pickup game in Lexington, mostly with women of a certain age.  My teammate had the ball on the sideline, and I ran (some might say lumbered) toward her, calling for the ball.  But I had an intuition that another teammate, Jeri, would sprint into the space I left vacant.  I let the ball pass between my legs and Jeri was there, unmarked; she hammered the ball into the goal.  It made our day.  My daughter now often plays pickup with us precisely because of this joy and camaraderie, which often seems absent from competitive youth club games.  

A few years ago, the Belmont Soccer Association started an in-town small-sided coed league for fifth through eighth graders. Affectionately called the “Rogue League,” it’s an organized version of the coed, multi-age, wide-range-of-skill-level pickup games that my brother and I grew up playing at our local park alongside club soccer. My daughter played in the Rogue League this spring and loved it. I highly recommend it.  

Like many others, I am willing to part with shocking amounts of time and money to support my daughter’s desire to become a better player.  But what I ultimately want for her has nothing to do with playing at an elite level.  I want her playing pickup in 20 years, savvy enough to make that run that Jeri made—and to feel that same “explosion of joy” that Rapinoe and all the rest of us feel when you play the Beautiful Game right.

Adriaan Lanni lives on Watson Road.

Planning Board Seeking Two New Members To Join ‘Congenial’ Group

Photo: The Planning Board’s acting Chair Stephen Pinkerton.

With two empty seats on the group, the Belmont Planning Board is looking to close the gap before the start of a busy fall season, said acting Planning Board Chair Stephen Pinkerton.

“We are reaching out to residents who want to volunteer to serve with a group that is doing some important work for the community,” said Pinkerton, who took over from the previous Chair, Charles Clark, who stepped down after serving nine years on the board.

The board is seeking candidates to fill a full-time vacancy – with the departure of Clark – and an associate member’s position. For both seats, “clearly there’s a need for someone who has strategic or master planning experience,” said Pinkerton.

Those interested in applying for the positions can go the town’s “Talent Bank.”

Created to protect and preserve the character and quality of life that defines Belmont, the Planning Board will face a number of high profile cases coming before its docket in the coming months including a residential and educational development on the two last open parcels at McLean Hospital, multiuse construction along South Pleasant Street and creating bylaws on short-term rentals such as those on AirBnB.

Pinkerton said one area of expertise the board would like to add is someone with legal experience.

“We have a good representative group with planning background so it will be useful to get a lawyer on board,” said Pinkerton who said McLean specifically “will not be an easy one” to resolve as the town and hospital are working within a land management agreement created 20 years ago this November.

While the associate member is not a full voting member, Clark said it’s likely whoever is appoved by the Select Board will be the board’s representative on the 2020-2030 Belmont Comprehensive Plan, which is the framework to guide future decisions and policies governing a wide range of land-use related issues in town.

Creating a new town master plan will “not be a start from scratch” project, said Pinkerton but rather skillfully taking out what has been accomplished since the last revision and help input policies approved by the Planning Board such as the Housing Production and energy plans.

Pinkerton believes a one-time member of the Warrant Committee or the Capital Projects Committee would be ideal for the position.

The Board will be taking its time during August to find the best person to join “a really congenial group. We’re not a fire brand agency,” said Pinkerton.

Temporary Field Lights Proposed For Winn Brook, PQ Grounds Heads To Select Board

Photo: (foreground) Charlie Conway, president of Belmont Youth Soccer, at a community meeting on field lights at Winn Brook playground.

After a pair of bruising meetings with skeptical neighbors on Wednesday night, July 24, the Belmont Recreation Commission unanimously approved allowing Belmont Youth Soccer to install temporary field lights at Winn Brook Elementary School and Pequossette (PQ) Field for approximately 10 weeks this fall.

The set of four lights will illuminate a 80 yard by 80-yard area for up to two hours until 8:30 p.m. beginning on the first week of September and lasting until early November as part of a pilot program.

“We will bring this [decision to allow lights until 8:30 p.m. weekdays] to the Select Board with the commission’s approval,” said Jon Marshall, assistant town administrator and Recreation Department director.

The commission did place conditions on the proposed permit that echoed resident’s major concerns by prohibiting diesel-generated lights which neighbors to the field considered too noisy and a potential source of air pollution.

In addition, the commission will suggest the Select Board begin a discussion that would lead to the lights being rotated to other play spaces, Town Field and Grove Street Playground, allowing fields to rest and regenerate the grass playing surfaces.

The lights request by Belmont Youth Soccer is an unintended consequence of the new Belmont Middle and High School, said Charlie Conroy, BYS president, who made the presentation to the committee and public at the Beech Street Center on Wednesday, July 24.

Recreation Commission Chair Anthony Ferrante with member Marsha Semuels responding to residents concerns.

With the school’s long-standing practice fields ripped up as the land is being prepared for construction, high school athletic teams will train on town fields and playgrounds (field hockey will be at Winn Brook, Girls’ Soccer at Grove Street and Boys’ Soccer at PQ) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., dislodging the youth league which has 1,500 players between kindergarten and eighth grade.

The four lights will allow teams of older players, about 40 in 7th and 8th grade, to practice well after dusk. “We will not light up the whole field just a specific part” of the playgrounds,” said Conway.

In addition, said Conway, Youth Soccer is also renting a field at Belmont Day School for $25,000 to supplement the playgrounds already being used this fall.

At both meetings, held consecutively, residents immediately pointed to the impact of diesel-powered lights on the quality of life of the neighborhood.

The fumes from the engines will prevent nearby residents from opening their windows “and that is completely unacceptable,” said Sherman Street’s Linda Matthews, who also pointed to the likelihood of light pollution from their use.

Conway said there are alternatives to diesel generated power sources including solar and electrical. But unlike the diesel machines which can be rented, the alternatives have to be purchased.

“And what we need from the town is a five year commitment to this plan for us to make this investment,” said Conway.

As much as the fumes, residents protested the diesel lights adding “another audio assault,” in the Winn Brook area, said Joanne Adduci of Hoitt Road. “Our chances to sit outside will be gone,” she said from the loud hum of the running motors.

Attendees at both sessions pointed to possible additional traffic, the noise of kids playing past nightfall and the location of the lights along abutters – at PQ it totaled 45 houses and 90 families – homes rather than closer to the center of the grounds.

Rose O’Neil, a Precinct 4 town meeting member from Maple Street adjacent to PQ, said as a member of the Friends of PQ Park, when the playground at the park was being developed this year, lighting was prohibited to prevent constant use.

“There has to be time for the residents … who are not part of league,” said O’Neil, seeking to preserve the park as “a communal place.”

“I love that feel,” she said.

While Conway and members of the commission attempted to reassure the residents that their concerns were being listened to, some in attendance didn’t have the same faith in the responses.

“With all due respect, is this a done deal? Do we get a fair shake,” said a resident.

After the end of the night’s meetings, the commission moved to approve the permit with the conditions against diesel use.

Progress On McLean Barn’s Future To The Lament Of Black-Clad Ninjas

Photo: The brick barn on Belmont conservation land off of Mill Street.

The future of the long-abandoned McLean Barn off Mill Street adjacent to Rock Meadow and the Kendall Garden neighborhood took a significant step forward with the selection of a facilitator who will begin the public process of determining a best end-use for the two-story brick structure.

“Yeah!,” cheered Ellen Cushman, the chair of the Land Management Committee for Lone Tree Hill which oversees the large swath of conservation land, when the announcement was made at the committee’s most recent meeting in July.

The working barn – whose cows supplied milk for the McLean Hospital – was part of a farm complex built more than a century ago. The 2018 Town Meeting approved $200,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds to stabilize and mothball the deteriorating structure built in 1915.

The facilitator selected by the committee, Kathryn Madden of Madden Planning Group in Watertown, will reach out to the barn’s many stakeholders – several town departments, McLean Hospital, the Land Management committee, the Trustees of the Reservation that holds the conservation easement, and the nearby residents – than group them into focus groups then hold up to eight meetings.

Afterwards, one or more community meetings will be scheduled where the status of the barn will be presented and suggestions on the best use will be presented. Strategies on moving forward with the data and information gathered will be developed.

“I’m extremely impressed how [Madden] is getting these things up and running,” said Cushman.

The future of the building is restricted by an 2005 agreement between the town and McLean Hospital to a small number of uses:

  • Environmental education,
  • the storage of materials and equipment associated with management of Lone Tree Hill or the nearby Highland cemetery and
  • office space for the staff of the cemetery and/or “the Premises.”

Cushman said she anticipates a late fall conclusion of Madden’s work.

One group that will not celebrate the news of a renovated barn is a group of mysterious visitors to the site. According to Cushman, neighbors of the building have seen a group of adults “described as a looking like ninjas wearing black-clad robes” tearing off the plywood covering a first-floor window and entering the building late at night, the latest incident happening over the Memorial Day weekend.

Police who investigated the break-in did not find any illegal activity – the barn is a frequent victim of vandalism – other than lawn chairs left behind.

“We don’t know why the ninjas come other than to hold a meeting,” said Cushman.

Race On To Improve Roads In Underwood/Hittinger Area Before High School Reopens

Photo: The location of the multi-use path along Underwood.

With about seven weeks before the start of the school year, the town is playing catch up with plans to improve travel along the new travel corridors to Belmont High School as the Belmont Board of Selectmen/Select Board unanimously approved a contract to renovate the streets and sidewalks adjacent to the school.

With the permanent closure of the roadway that ran from Underwood and Hittinger streets to Concord Avenue due to the building of the new Belmont High and Middle School, most vehicles traveling to and from the high school will soon take Hittinger to and from school’s parking lot.

With a significant amount of added traffic anticipated in the surrounding neighborhood, the town sought to provide some relief to the residents and people heading to and from the school which is also an active construction zone.

The approved project – which is the product of recommendations from the High School Traffic Working Group and residents – will include constructing new sidewalks and curbs treatments (including closing 200 feet of the existing curb cut adjacent the Purecoat Building along Hittinger) along neighborhood streets as well as building a multi-use path on the western side of Underwood Street to provide bike and pedestrian access to the high school campus.

The roads under construction include:

  • Underwood Street from Concord Avenue to Hittinger Street,
  • Trowbridge Street from Concord Avenue to Hittinger Street,
  • Hittinger Street from Brighton to Underwood streets,
  • Baker Street from Concord Avenue to Hittinger Street.

And while the Office of Community Development wanted to have all the work done before the school year begins in the first week of September, delays due to a greater number of public hearings and other process issues.

“We had hoped to to be under construction in mid-June so we’ve lost essentially a month just due to factors that were beyond our control,” said Glenn Clancy, OCD director.

The bidding on the job was not completed until the final week in June with the winning bid accepted on July 11 before being presented to the Board of Selectmen/Select Board on July 15.

Only two bids were received and the winning (low) one, $1,080,242, by Belmont-based Tasco Construction, was a significantly higher – by nearly $100,000 – than the $920,000 estimated by the town.

“I was not happy with the final number,” said Clancy, who blamed the timing of the bid – most construction firms have scheduled their work before the summer – and the strength of the local economy.

While there was some talk of rebidding the job in the winter of 2020 to attract more firms, “the reality is that come September [2019] this neighborhood is going to be the entrance and exit for the high school,” said Clancy.

Clancy said the new schedule is for the multi-use path along Underwood to be completed by September 1 while work along Trowbridge and Hittinger will be done in late September/October. Clancy said that Baker Street could be deferred until the Spring if the weather or work on the other streets is delayed.

Underwood Pool Patrons: It’ll Be Crowded This Weekend, So Here’s Some Rules To Know

Photo: Open for the crowds

With the expected weather forecast for this weekend calling for record heat, the Belmont Recreation Department is anticipating a high volume of users at the Underwood Pool at the corner of Cottage and Concord.

Following state code, the pool may not exceed 275 swimmers in the water at any given time. In the event that maximum capacity is reached, the lifeguards will need to rotate groups in and out of the water in 15-minute intervals to ensure compliance with the law. 

In addition, if the pool reaches capacity, the pool staff may need to limit the sale of single entry day passes.  

The department also wants to remind patrons of some key rules to know so to enjoy this town resource: 

  • Showers: A cleansing shower is required before entering the pool. Please apply sunscreen 30 minutes before entering the pool.  Sunscreen applied right before entry will wash off and impact water quality.  
  • Storm Related Closing: Upon hearing thunder or observing lightning, the pool will be closed immediately.  The pool will remain closed for one hour after the last sighting of lightning or last sounds of thunder.  
  • Membership Tags: As a reminder, membership tags are required for entry to the pool. If you do not have tags, you must show ID to the front desk staff to gain entry.  

With Weekend Extreme Temps, Town Opens Beech Street Center, Library Sat., Sun As Cooling Center

Photo: Beech Street Center. (Town of Belmont)

With the heat index anticipated to top 100 degrees this weekend, the town of Belmont is opening the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., as a community cooling station.

The center will be open Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition, the Belmont Public Library at 336 Concord Ave. will be open Friday, July 19 until 5 p.m.; Saturday, July 20 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.; and Sunday, July 21 between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.  

The National Weather Service is forecasting excessive heat starting today, Friday, July 19 through Sunday, July 2. Hot temperatures combined with high humidity are expected to create dangerous heat conditions, with the most oppressive conditions expected on Saturday.

High temperatures Friday through Sunday are forecast to be in the 90s to lower 100s, and dew points in the low to mid 70s. Heat index values are expected to reach the mid to upper 90s Friday, 100 to 110 Saturday, and 97 to 105 Sunday, with the highest values occurring on Saturday in eastern Massachusetts.

Below are tips for preventing Heat Related illnesses:

  • Drink Plenty of Fluids

During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Popsicles, watermelon, cantaloupe and fruit salads all contain water. Avoid caffeine and alcohol whenever possible.

  • Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen

Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Use a sunscreen product rated at least SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 and apply it to all exposed skin at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun.

  • Stay Cool Indoors

Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a shopping mall, public library or community center – even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.

  • Monitor Those at High Risk

Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.

  • Infants and children up to four years of age are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
  • People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature.
  • People who are overweight or obese may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.

Remember, to prevent a heat illness:

  • Avoid direct sun from late morning until 5 p.m.
  • Limit vigorous exercise or chores to early morning or late afternoon
  • Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothes
  • Continually drink plenty of water or juice
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol
  • Eat light meals
  • NEVER, leave children, adults alone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • For More Information:For more information visit https://www.cdc.gov/features/extremeheat/index.html orhttps://www.mass.gov/service-details/extreme-heat-safety-tips

After Two Decades Of Wind and Weather, Boston Temple Replaces Its Angel

Photo: Workmen securing the angel Moroni at the Boston Mass. Temple in Belmont.

Something was amiss on a recent Tuesday morning in Belmont. For commuters along Route 2 and residents on Belmont Hill, a familiar local landmark was not waiting for them. The golden angel Moroni that stood atop the Boston Massachusetts Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was missing.

While many mistakes the statue’s identity for Gabriel, another heavenly trumpeter, Moroni is the guardian of the golden plates which is the source of the Book of Mormon. And it wasn’t there.

Had it fallen off? Was it stolen? Did it take off and leave?

Turns out, it was being replaced by its doppelgänger.

Lloyd Baird, president of the Boston Massachusetts Temple, said Moroni which was was atop the steeple for nearly 18 years was showing its age. 

“The gold coating was wearing off and there was some wind damage to the steeple. So we took it down and replaced it with a new exact replica of the Moroni statue that was there,” he said in an email. The job was done using two cranes with workmen bolting the statue in place and securing it with caulk.

Some trivia about the statue: The angel Moroni is a casting of the statue created by Torlief Knaphus for the Washington D.C. Ward chapel, which he made as a replica of Cyrus E. Dallin’s statue atop the Salt Lake Temple

“It looks the same but the way it was originally before the New England weather took its toll.”

And in the process, the temple underwent repairs, replacing a couple of tiles in the steeple that were beginning to cause some damage. 

The Boston Temple’s broke ground on June 1997 and was dedicated on Oct. 1, 2000, by Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church. The steeple and the original angel was dedicated on Sept. 21, 2001.

Nineteen Years Later, Wait’s Over As Town Breaks Ground On Belmont Police HQ’s Renovation

Photo: At the groundbreaking of the (from left); Anne Marie Mahoney, Anthony Ferrante, Stephen Rosales, Michael Smith, Roy Epstein, Police Chief Richard McLaughlin, architect Ted Galante.

According to Anne Marie Mahoney, it was early in 2000 when town officials and committee heads created a “wish list” of capital and infrastructure projects around Belmont that “needed to get done” which included a new high school, a revisioned skating rink and a revamped DPW yard.

And near the top of the list was replacing the then 69-year-old police headquarters, a structure at the end of its useful life, with outdated facilities that housed an overcrowded department.

“We knew then we needed to do something with this building,” she said.

Fast forward to a sunny and warm July morning in 2019 as a large group of elected and town officials, architects, police officers came to celebrate the groundbreaking of the renovation and new construction at the now 88-year-old police headquarters.

Anne Marie Mahoney

“Here we are 19 years later and this is the last of the projects on that list,” said Mahoney, the chair of the building committee overseeing the work at both the Police headquarters and the Department of Public Works.

The renovation and new construction of the police station will top just north of $11 million which was approved at the Spring Town Meeting. The interior of the existing building will be renovated with the construction of additional square footage that will include space for an elevator, locker rooms, new holding cells, a secure sally port for the transportation of suspects and a new booking room.

Belmont Police Chief McLaughlin, who is retiring at the end of the year, thanked “a very fun and energetic and innovative committee” for addressing all the issues related to the building.

“I’m just very grateful because it’s something that is very needed in the community. And I truly believe once it’s all done and completed, it’s going to be a project that we all can be very proud of,” said McLaughlin.

Select Board Chair Tom Caputo also noted the committee had to contend with “a very challenging project” with its historical, time and budget constraints.

“And yet everybody came together to figure out a way to deliver a great design be a great building,” he said.

Ted Galante, the principal of the Galante Architecture Studio in Cambridge. said he came to the project with an initial goal of adding 10 years to the building’s life so the town could plan for a new station with a projected cost of $30 million.

Ted Galante, the principal of the Galante Architecture Studio.

“But we started to think a little creativity and the committee started to push and we started to push back,” said Galante. “Here we’re building a new building while preserving the existing historic structure.”

“The best years are not behind us; the best years are ahead of us. It’s a historic building and we respent the past but you build looking forward. And that’s really our intention, to build looking forward, save the town money and give the police what they need for the next 50 years,” said Galante.

After the ceremonial groundbreaking, Mahoney said everyone was welcomed back in the fall of 2020 for the ribbon cutting “showing that we have preserved the historic exteriors of the 1931 building, created some additions and renovated the entire interior, which is pretty exciting,” said Mahoney.

With Heat Wave Coming, Belmont Light Asks Customers To Cut Energy Use

Photo: Belmont Light is requesting customers to lower energy usage as temperatures climb.

With a significant heatwave set to blanket Belmont over the coming weekend, the town’s electrical utility is requesting consumers to save energy and money by reducing usage during peak times.

With temperatures rising to the 90s on Friday, July 19 to Sunday, July 21 and possibly breaking the century mark on Saturday, July 20, Belmont Light is asking customers to curtail electricity consumption between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Electricity cut during peak times helps Belmont mitigate energy supply costs and lowers strain on the regional electricity grid.

Here are some tips to reduce Belmont peak electricity consumption:

  • Adjust air conditioners and turn off the AC in rooms that are not used. Adjusting the thermostat even by 2-3 degrees helps.
  • Use a microwave oven or an outdoor grill instead of a stove or a regular oven.
  • Shift laundry and dishwashing activities until after 8 p.m.
  • Unplug DVRs or gaming consoles when not in use
  • Hold off charging electric vehicles until later in the evening

For more advice on reducing peak energy consumption, call Belmont Light at 617-993-2800.