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Little League program gets down, dirty

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

 

Dirt is flying at Grant County Park in Crittenden as the Grant County Little League program wraps up its season and sets its sights on making improvements for next year.

While finding space for games has been tricky the last two years, little league officials are making plans for the future.

Since 2010, the program has doubled in size, which means the league is in desperate need for more ballfields.

“There’s been growth in all age groups over the last four years,” said Terry Peer, a 2013 little league board member. “Several new divisions have been created to better serve both the girls and boys teams.”

The biggest hurdle facing the little league board is the lack of field space, which is compounded by the number of youth wanting to play and the long-term impact of a devastating fire in 2012.

On May 21, 2012, someone set fire to the field house/concession stand at Bobby Gibson Memorial Field at Grant County Park in Crittenden.

The building, which was constructed with funds raised by the little league, was a total loss, as well as the contents, which included team spirit wear, programs for the season and all the equipment for the games and the concession along with food and supplies to be used for the season.

“All of the sudden we had to pay for these expenses out of our pockets,” Peer said. 

Little league fees do not cover all expenses associated with the program. Peer said additional money is received through advertising and sponsorships.

Peer said many parents had already paid for the children’s uniforms so the league had to dip into their reserves to pay for the replacements.

“We lost the ability to sell concessions, which allows us to pay umpires and for field maintenance, so that’s another area that was severely impacted,” he said.

The fire also destroyed the field’s light box, which meant no lights for the field at the park, which forced the league to split up the games between Crittenden and Mullins Field on Barnes Road in Williamstown.

“This was a burden on our families because they were often forced to drive back and forth between the fields because of multiples games and multiple children in the league. As they passed restaurants, they would stop there instead of buying from us as we tried to make do out of coolers so we were again impacted by the amount of money we could generate,” Peer said.

Peer described the fire as having a snowball effect on the league for the last two years.

“It’s just not about not having lights, although two-thirds of our games can’t be played early in the season because it does get dark earlier,” he said.

The Grant County Fiscal Court, which owns the park, has said that lights won’t be restored at Gibson Field until the controls can be placed inside a permanent fire-proof building, which the league nor county currently does not have funds to build.

A “Build It Back” fundraiser was held after the fire and generated $8,800 in donations. Even with insurance on the building, it took 10 months for an insurance check to be issued because the fire was rules as arson.

“That complicated things,” Peer said. “Way more than any of us anticipated.”

It took 10 months for the insurance check to be issued. During that time the league had to absorb invoices for lost product and had to adjust operating costs to account for the lost concession revenue.

“We have had discussions about plans for a new building but they have not been finalized nor approved by the fiscal court,” said Tabatha Clemons, parks and recreation director. “Our discussions have focused on overall park improvement by including restrooms in the building and concession facilities. I want to make sure when we rebuild we meet little league’s needs, as well as park needs.”

Support from the community has been essential, Peer said. Beans Café in Dry Ridge supplied a hot dog cart to sell concessions this year and donated a portion of the proceeds back to the league.

Another fundraiser is planned for later this fall.

Peer said that little league and parks and recreation have met and discussed future plans for the park.

“Simply building a small room building behind home plate does not provide the facility with the right long term needs,” Peer said.

The league’s number one priority for 2014 is to get all the games back at Grant County Park and to get back to being able to offer concessions.

Peer said the little league board has set some short-term goals for improvements at the park, which include grading the field at the park so water pooling can be eliminated and installing permanent fencing, which is expected to cost around $10,000.

“Quotes are also being made to reconfigure the rookie machine pitch field (at the back of the park) to extend the fence so that it can hold all machine pitch and fast pitch softball,” Peer said.

The grading work took place last week.

“We will be working on new traffic patterns in the park during the spring as well to help with congestion during the season,” Clemons said. “The overall plan I have for Grant County Park is for it to continue to be a place where the community can gather for events, reunions, baseball games and special occasions.”

He said the league supports Clemons’ future plans for the park.

“Our goal is still to invest money into the complex for the kids with a long-term vision of being able to provide more opportunities for the kids,” he said. “The public probably wondered what we had been doing but really we’re just now in a position where things have stabilized.”

While there’s much work to be done, Peer said the board knows it will have to pick and choose which projects can be funded.

The other priority for the league is to recruit more volunteers.

“Player enrollment has doubled, but our volunteer numbers have not,” Peer said.