October 24, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Many parents can relate to the demands of driving kids back and forth across town for recreational sports. However, that's less of a problem for parents in Cary, N.C. Players in leagues for ages 6 to 10 consistently attend practices near their homes, thanks to a GIS application created by Leith Britt, GIS analyst for the Cary Technology Services Department.
Before 2003, the Cary Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department (PRCR) assigned kids to sports teams without regard to location. Teams usually had rotating practice sites so players could take turns practicing near their homes. But parent complaints about long drives to practices escalated as Cary's population grew and traffic thickened. The town is currently home to 130,000 residents.
Britt programmed GIS layers over a map of the town using ESRI's ArcGIS Server and Pitney Bowes' MapInfo Professional, identifying clusters of kids living near each other that could form teams. The application assigned those teams to nearby practice locations. Cary doesn't use GIS to assign teams for ages beyond 10 because competitive tryouts become critical to placement at that point. Britt said the PRCR hadn't measured attendance patterns since implementing the project, but the agency frequently receives anecdotal reports of growing player attendance from coaches.
"It's all about using technology to better create the leagues in order for parents to spend less time on the road and less money on gas, and for the kids to be able to play with their buddies," Britt said.
Britt established team boundary lines with a ZIP code GIS layer showing where clusters of players existed on the town's map. The PRCR then drew three sections: west, north and south. A separate GIS layer routes returning players to teams with their teammates within each section from the previous year. New players fill the remaining openings.
"Sometimes we have players along the edge of these district lines, and we need to borrow a player in the north or west district. If we do have a player right along the edge who is unassigned, we can take them from the other side of that line and just put them with the team that would be in the west or the north just to finish completing the teams," said Ted Jeffcoate, coordinator of athletic programs for the PCPR.
When it's time to begin this process, Britt receives an Excel spreadsheet of all players and coaches enlisted in the league. He feeds the spreadsheet into the GIS application, enabling renderings of the various spreadsheet details as GIS layers. Assigning coaches is the first task; a GIS layer shows where each coach lives. After assigning coaches to neighboring practice facilities, Britt runs a report on players requesting to be on the same team as another player or certain coach. He then enters a query on how many girls entered the league and ensures every girl is on a team with at least one other girl.
"Ideally we would get two females on every team, but that may not occur, so one team could end up with none, and one may end up with three," Britt said.
Then Britt applies a general layer of players over the map, quickly assigning them to location-appropriate teams.
"We have enough kids on teams that we've been able to accommodate them with a facility relatively close to their home in nearly every case," Britt explained. "We've had folks who were residents in nearby cities, and they were several miles away from any facility. There are also kids who are returning for a second year who may have moved in the off-season, and they still go on the team they were on before."
Jeffcoate said the GIS assigning process didn't change any of the PRCR staff's procedures. The agency continues to receive