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HOW FAR SHOULD GOVERNMENT GO IN PROVIDING SPORTS PROGRAMS?

America's sports preferences are becoming as diverse and individualistic as its hair styles, forcing public officials to come face-to-face with a dilemma: How far should local government recreation programs go to provide facilities for everyone?

The question is complicated by the fact that growing communities, such as ours, desperately need open parks - the purifying, green tranquilizers that counter the steady suburban drumbeat of asphalt, brick and aluminum.Until recently, this wasn't much of a problem. Organized sports were about as predictable as the dollar. The list of socially acceptable games included baseball, softball, tennis and golf - all the all-American pastimes. Anything else had to wait for an open date and squeeze into whatever space was available.

But, as with the dollar, inflation has grabbed hold of the recreation world. Now, the list of sports is much longer, and growing.

Salt Lake County ran headlong into this modern phenomenon recently when, apparently unbeknownst to anyone in the neighborhood nearby, it began constructing a full-fledged rugby stadium, complete with bleachers and scoreboard, at Valley Park in Taylorsville.

Rugby players already were using the west side of the park for games, where the county had installed goal posts on a grass field. But, as the old saying goes, give a guy a goal post and he'll ask for bleachers, a press box and a JumboTron.

Highland High School's rugby team, which happens to be the best in the nation, went directly to the county commission with their request for a permanent facility. The commission apparently put a new stadium in its yearly budget, and work started without anyone holding a hearing.

The neighbors caught on after the concrete footings were poured. They weren't pleased, especially when they learned the new stadium would be surrounded by a locked fence, taking away much of the green space families in the area were counting on.

Caught in an embarrassing case of bureaucracy run amok, the commission backed down, ordered the concrete bleacher foundation removed and decided to swallow the $23,000 already spent on the project. Meanwhile, the county will let the rugby players use another part of the park for a year. Then the neighbors can decide whether they want a more permanent facility.

But if the county wants to satisfy rugby players, it ought to be prepared for whatever else pops out of Pandora's Box, particularly in an age where parents put their children in organized sports to keep them away from all the bad things of the world.

Years ago, I wrote several stories about a group of teens in Sandy who wanted the county to build a skateboarding park. They presented a strong case, arguing it would keep kids off the streets. The group already had built a wooden ramp in a back yard, but the county had forced them to dismantle it after neighbors said they'd prefer the sound of huge fingernails scraping large blackboards all day to that of skateboards on wood.

The county declined the request for a park, however, citing legal liabilities. All those young folks flying through the air on tiny wheels could injure themselves. Of course, rugby isn't exactly non-contact sport.

County Parks Director Glen Lu said the county recently installed a cricket field in Southridge Park, and it built a track in Riverview Park for organized BMX bicycle races.

Surely, lacrosse players can't be far behind, and the county's many youth soccer leagues always could use more space. Hockey teams always need more ice. The list is never ending. The park-strapped county ought to formulate a policy on which sports it plans to support before things get out of hand.

In the eye of the beholder: Ken Nute of Kanab gets my vote for the Mr. Congeniality Award. Recently appointed to the city's Beautification Committee, he wanted to motivate his neighbors to tidy their homes. So he went on a local television talk show and showed photographs of the houses he felt were eyesores.

Of course, in a city with only a couple of thousand people, everyone knew who owned the houses. The stunt may have been good for ratings, but it wasn't conducive to a neighborly small-town atmosphere. Now, the Nutes have sold their house and are moving back to California, muttering that Kanab's "pigs" can live in their "squalor."

With those kind of motivational skills, I bet Nute could have a great career as, say, a weight-loss therapist or self-esteem counselor.