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Soccer tournaments like this one in May 2017 attract up to 1,000 people to the Deer Run Soccer Complex in Fenton Township.

 Hundreds of young soccer players and the people who developed the fledgling organization for 25 years might be looking for a new home.

 Linden’s AYSO 417 (American Youth Soccer Organization) is in talks with Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation (SLPR) concerning its continued use of the Deer Run Soccer Complex at 16021 Linden Rd. in Fenton Township. This is because its lease with Genesee County Parks and Recreation (GCRC), which owns the 40-acre property, is about to expire, and it might be SLPR that takes over the management of the property for the first time.

 For 25 years, Fenton Township has been the holder of the sublease from GCPR, which will only deal with a government entity and not a private organization. As a result, the township gave a concurrent 25-year sublease to AYSO.

 Thomas Broecker, deputy clerk and operations manager for Fenton Township, said that in February 2020, both the township and AYSO’s leases expire, and a new one must be created.

 Earlier this year, Clerk Robert Krug, Broecker and Genesee County Commissioner Shaun Shumaker (District 6), a Fenton Township resident, met with GCPR to discuss a possible solution. Broecker said it is the township’s goal “to no longer have a role.”

 Twenty-five years ago, there was no metropolitan parks and recreation authority, but now that SLPR is in place, it was suggested to GCPR that it be considered to manage the soccer program, and the county agreed. In June, the township proposed the idea to SLPR, which took the ball and started investigating.

 In the 25 years of the lease, the AYSO has been responsible for everything involved in running the facility. It includes grounds and equipment maintenance, restroom, concessions and game equipment. “We certainly recognize that AYSO is responsible for the development of that facility,” said Broecker. 

 Tapping SLPR for the task raised serious concerns for the organization that has run the facility for a quarter century, and the parents who have children in the program.

 “We are doing our due diligence to create the best situation for Deer Run Soccer Complex,” said Vince Paris, SLPR executive director.

 He’s currently in talks with AYSO, Laforza Soccer Club and a travel league to establish what it costs to run the facility in order to draft an operating proposal.

 Sometimes these talks have been tense and communication styles criticized. “AYSO families built that field,” said Amy Converse, regional commissioner

for AYSO. “All those people put in a lot of hours … why change something that’s not broken?”

 Converse would like to see the SLPR allow AYSO to keep running the facility as it has been. Converse has received strong support from families who spoke positively about the complex. She said they’ve received numerous awards for the complex including “region of the year.” Converse said families are “devastated” that something might change.

 While communication between AYSO and SLPR can be terse, the main concern by AYSO is that if SLPR runs the complex, prices to participate could increase. Today it costs $140 for a 16-week season, according to Converse, who circulated an email to families suggesting that prices could increase to more than $200 per child under SLPR, because instead of the army of volunteers that maintain the facility, they would have paid employees.

 Converse said she sent an itemized expense list for running the facility to Paris that cost $116,000 annually, taking into account there would be no donations of items or volunteer time. She said in reality it costs about $80,000 to $100,000 to run the facility with help and donations.

 Paris said he’s offered no budget or costs for operating the facilities, and that he can only go off what the organizations will share with him.

 AYSO has suggested that they may need to change facilities, and therefore may be pulling up their game equipment to move to another place. While she is open to working with SLPR, Converse said, “There’s too many unknowns with Southern Lakes.”

 Paris said he wants the facility to be self-sufficient, and have a capital fund for repairs and upgrades. He reiterated that he wants local children to be able to play on their local field, and that AYSO would get first priority with scheduling.

 Talks are continuing as the deadline for AYSO to find a new home or stay, looms. Broecker said if all parties involved can come to an agreement, it will be a great thing for the community.

 Associate Editor Vera Hogan contributed to this story.

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