It was a sight that stunned lacrosse coach Bram Gagnon, as his tyke team was practicing at the lacrosse box next to Thomas Haney secondary last Wednesday.
After chasing an errant ball that sailed into the lacrosse box’s bench area, Gagnon instead found a dozen dirty hypodermic needles stashed in a corner, some still filled with blood.
Parks staff removed the needles, but Gagnon said he’s concerned for the safety of his players using the lacrosse box.
“You don’t even want to think about what could have happened if one of the kids had got in there,” he said. “It looked like an overflowing ashtray, but with syringes instead of cigarettes.”
As one of only two outdoor lacrosse boxes in Maple Ridge, Gagnon and his team doesn’t have many options to play elsewhere.
“Our main concern is the safety of the kids,” said Gagnon. “As a coach, you’re responsible for them for that hour that they are with you.”
Lance Andre, president of the Ridge Meadows Minor Lacrosse Association, said the box has long been a magnet for homeless people who live in the nearby woods adjacent to the lacrosse box.
Because it sits halfway down a hill, surrounded by forest, the box crates a perfect hiding spot for drug users.
“They shoot up here, totally protected. No one can see them,” said Andre.
“And if the cops show up, they just dive into the bushes. They’re not going in after them.”
The association’s locked container of field lacrosse gear on the site has repeatedly been broken into, with a number of pop-up tents being stolen, valued at $800.
“We found the bags they were stored in stashed in the bushes 20 feet away,” said Andre.
The netting on the lacrosse box’s goals was also stolen, forcing parks staff to weld a permanent metal chain link net onto the goal.
As a result, Andre said only younger teams can play in that box now, because the ball bounces off the chain and hits the goalie in the back.
“The older players shoot the ball so hard it could injure them,” he said.
Andre wants Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Parks and Leisure Services to do a better job of ensuring the box is a safe place for kids to play. He said steps like clearing away the forest adjacent to the box, installing lighting, putting locks on the lacrosse box doors to restrict access, and having parks staff inspect the site daily, could all help make the site safer and more secure.
Director of Parks and Facilities David Boag said staff won’t be installing locks on the box, as that would restrict use for casual community users. The forested land adjacent to the lacrosse box, meanwhile, belongs to the Ministry of Transportation.
“So clearing that land isn’t an option for us,” he said.
The lacrosse box is currently inspected on a monthly basis, along with close to 80 other sites Parks and Leisure Services manages, and inspecting it on a daily basis wouldn’t be feasible, Boag said.
“It’s up to the club or coach to do a sweep of the facility,” he said.
Boag said he plans to provide a needle container and offer parents and coaches training on how to handle needles should they discover them in the future.
That’s not good enough, said Andre.
“These are volunteer lacrosse coaches, they shouldn’t have to be picking up dirty needles,” he said. “That not what they signed up for.”
Boag said parents can also contact Parks and Leisure Services to dispose of the needles if they feel uncomfortable handling them safely.
“I understand it’s not the city’s fault, but obviously this needs to be addressed,” said Gagnon. “It’s unfortunate this human being [who left the needles] has such disregard for the safety of our kids.”