TAMPA BAY, Florida - Months after a 10 News investigation called attention to often-ignored safety recommendations on soccer fields, tens of thousands of Tampa Bay-area kids are now safer.
City and county leaders are scrambling to anchor down heavy soccer goals that had been left precariously balanced and unsecured at nearly every field in Tampa Bay. It was a heavy steel goal that killed 18-year-old Corey Hawk in Lake Wales five years ago when it tumbled over.
According to goal manufacturers, 300- or 400-lb. goals are often left unanchored by field maintenance crews because anchors and/or sandbags make it harder to mow.
But just as fast as the initial report brought the issue to the attention of local leaders, many of them have stepped up with quick fixes for both the short- and long-terms.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman asked county staff to survey its fields. Of 106 soccer goals, only 12 were properly secured.
"I was alarmed, completely alarmed," Murman said. "We're taking every step we can to make sure we're going to have a permanent solution in place and that we're following the guidelines."
Hillsborough County Administrator Michael Merrill ordered sandbags immediately dropped on the goals after seeing the 10 News report and told leagues to present a long-term fix within two weeks. All had to utilize anchors, additional sandbags, or chains.
"(Leagues) were furnished a copy of a report entitled 'Guidelines for Movable Soccer Goal Safety' authored by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission," Merrill wrote in an e-mail to commissioners. "The County Attorney's Office was also consulted regarding our levels of liability, and they provided assistance with wording for additional notification to leagues."
The City of Tampa wasted no time either and bought permanent anchors for all of their goals.
"We wouldn't have known about it had you not done the story, so we're glad you brought it to our attention." says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "Clearly, there was potential liability. Clearly, a young man lost his life unnecessarily. I don't want that to happen in my city."
Permanent anchors were installed at numerous fields less than a week later.
In Polk County, where Hawk died in 2007, the presidents of all the local soccer clubs met to discuss the 10 News story and goal safety. Fighting the frustrating battle for years, they say they need more help from everyone when it comes to securing goals.
"Safety is not just the league's responsibility, safety is every single person's responsibility," says Lake Wales Soccer Club President Robbie Shields.
Sheilds sent an e-mail ultimatum to coaches that he'll pull the team off the field if they are practicing near unsecured goals.
Pinellas County commissioners and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster also took immediate action, encouraging their staffs to draw up language mandating local leagues lock down their goals.
However, in Pasco County, a month after 10 News first brought the problem to commissioners, only some of the county's goals had been unanchored down on county fields. Many were tied down to fences, but several goals on several different fields remained unsecured.
Jack Mitchell Park had five heavy nets with too few sandbags to meet more anchoring guidelines. There were five other nets with no anchoring whatsoever. At John Testa Field, four large goals had no anchoring at all.
Commissioners repeatedly referred questions to Pasco County Parks and Recreation Director Rick Buckman, who said via email that leagues were told to take care of the problem.
"All the co-sponsored soccer league leaders...have been instructed to look at this issue and secure the goals in some fashion (stakes, sand bags, or chains) when in use or available for public use," Buckman wrote. "If there are issues, the volunteer leadership of the program involved is to be contacted by the park supervisor or an operations manager.
"It is difficult to monitor use when staff is not available and the co-sponsored youth sports organizations are not on site. We will continue to communicate with the co-sponsored youth sports leadership on this issue to help ensure user safety."
While three states have recently passed laws to mandate goals be secured at all times, Florida is not one of them. But the problem of unanchored goals has been around for decades.
In 1995, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a report about the dangers of goals on 500,000 fields across the county. It puts the responsibility of goal safety on park personnel, parents, school officials, sports equipment purchasers, and coaches.
Goal manufacturer KwikGoal states on its website that goals are to be anchored at all times. The warning has also appeared on goalposts, catalog pages, assembly instructions, and other marketing materials for more than two decades.
Both the US Youth Soccer Association and the Florida Youth Soccer Association stress safety on their websites, reminding coaches and referees to inspect "before every practice, training activity, and game" all goals for safety.
The CPSC believed its 1995 guidelines could help prevent deaths and serious injuries resulting from soccer goal tip-overs in the United States. In the 16 years since, there have been 16 goal-related deaths and at least 30 serious injuries.
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