Island gym space is truly inadequate

Christa Lilly
Island Forum

For the last three years, I’ve been a board member of the Mercer Island Girls Basketball Booster Club. We support both the high school and the girl’s Select Program. We are also the feeder program for MIHS.

My daughter is a sophomore and has been playing basketball since third grade. As a parent, I have seen firsthand the number of times her teams didn’t have a place to practice.

Many opponents of the PEAK project have been saying that there really is no shortage of gym space on the Island. I can understand some of their issues with PEAK but to publicly state that the shortage of gym space on the Island is a myth, is patently untrue.

I am the board member whose responsibility is the scheduling of the Select teams’ (grades 5-8) practice schedules plus replacing lost practice time. We are lucky to have the use of the middle school gyms for practices, but school events do and should have priority. As a result, we are bumped many times throughout the year.

I can’t tell you how hard it was this year to even get the minimum amount of gym time for practices. Many Island teams don’t have the amount of practice time that is considered the standard amount for their level of play. There simply isn’t enough gym space for everybody.

Then there is the issue of trying to replace lost gym time. Our teams get bumped many times each year. This year our teams will get bumped 48 times! And replacing that time? I have spent countless hours calling all over Mercer Island and off Island trying to find gym time. On rare occasions we can find gyms outside of Mercer Island, but there is very little available for us as their kids have priority. We can only replace a small fraction of time that is lost.

Gym time 30 years ago is not relevant today as the percentage of kids that play sports has skyrocketed. Girls’ participation in sports has been one of the factors in that increase, in both recreation and Select sports. These events are not unique to Mercer Island. They are true all over the country.

As concerned as I am that some were saying that we are not short of gyms, I am also concerned that there’s pressure to reduce PEAK again so it will only house two full-size gyms. The original PEAK was designed to house four full-size gyms in order to alleviate the extreme shortage of gyms for our youth, from current users like boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball and wrestling and to accommodate new users like lacrosse, baseball, softball and MIHS intramural sports. After pressure from a small minority group, the PEAK was reduced to three full-size gyms. To reduce PEAK again would be a huge disservice to our youth. We need a three to four full-size gym to adequately meet the needs of our youth!

I welcome anyone to look over my figures of gym availability. Sadly, there are many other youth programs in the same situation.

I live three blocks from the high school. By the time the PEAK is built, my children will be almost out of school. They will not have had the benefits of this facility. I support PEAK, not for my children, but for my friends’, neighbors’ and my community’s children and all of our children’s children.

Christa Lilly is a board member of the Mercer Island girls basketball booster club. She can be reached at 232-5688.

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