Upset residents and parents overflowed seating at the Boone County Parks & Recreation Commission meeting Tuesday, after word spread that they would be discussing “charging for use of ball fields and/or parks property.”
“We cannot charge our kids to play ball,” said Joe McCormick, board member for Boone Northern Little League. “I mean this is crazy.”
However, members of the commission explained that they’re only beginning the fact-finding process and are open to a variety of options, but with their budget already stretched thin, something has to be done.
For children in Boone County, though, where coal mines have closed and the economy has slowed, playing ball can mean everything.
“It’s really important for me, because one day I want to play it in college and become a professional,” said Sydney Browning, a 10-year-old who plays softball for Boone Northern Little League.
“We have very limited resources and very limited fields here available as it is, so making sure that we keep our children involved in athletic endeavors and keep them moving is very important to us,” said Virgil Underwood, a concerned parent, but also CEO of Boone Memorial Hospital.
Organizers for the local, non-profit little leagues say they can’t take on any additional expenses.
“We pay a registration fee for so many kids who can’t play and can’t afford it and there’s not much left in the county for these kids to do,” said Courtney Green, secretary for the USA Youth Softball League at Lick Creek. “When you take, take, take, we’re not going to be able to have a league left.”
“Our league is not even breaking even per kid,” said McCormick. “We still lose a little bit of money. We can’t afford to cut any corners when it comes to the kids.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission decided to hold off discussions on charging for the fields until the end of the upcoming softball/baseball season. In the meantime, director Russell Thomas said they will implement a new lighting system that will help them research and detemine costs.
The program is offered free through Musco, the company who the county purchased the lights from. It will provide each team or league that uses the fields with a code and password to turn on the lights as needed, according to Thomas. Each group can access the lights through an app or phone call to the company. In turn, Thomas said, Musco will compile the data and provide the county with a better picture of energy costs for each game.