Conflict over diamonds
New London considers ballpark fees
By Robert Cloud
New London Parks and Rec is considering whether it should charge fees for using its baseball and softball diamonds.
Chad Hoerth, director of public services, discussed the issue of ballpark fees at the Jan. 7 Parks and Rec Committee meeting.
In a Jan. 2 memo to committee members, Hoerth noted the city does not currently charge any group to use the diamonds.
However, some groups, such as Youth Baseball and Girls Youth Softball, “have put tens of thousands of dollars over the years with capital improvements into park facilities,” Hoerth said in the memo.
“There are a lot of other municipalities that charge for practices and games,” Hoerth said at the committee meeting.
New London Park and Rec schedules time for baseball and softball diamonds at Hatten, Memorial, Pfeifer, Krostue and Washington parks.
The city owns 13 diamonds and manages the diamond at the Washington Center. Park and Rec also has an agreement with the New London School District to book reservations on its diamonds during the summer.
“It makes it easier for teams to have a one-stop shop in our system to book any diamond in New London,” Hoerth told the New London Press Star.
Among those using the ball fields are New London Youth Baseball, New London Girls Youth softball, New London High School teams, the Legion’s Clippers baseball team, the BABA Brews baseball team and Impact Fastpitch Softball.
Emanuel Lutheran School has booked four to six reservations per year for softball games.
“In 2019 our system booked over 725 reservations for ball diamond practices,” Hoerth said.
Practices are booked by each of the club coaches via Parks and Rec’s online reservation system.
During the summer, especially in the evenings, scheduling for the ball fields is packed.
“The main crunch for coaches trying to get in practices is from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday,” Hoerth said.
Each club fills out a form for game reservations and Park and Rec enters them into the system.
Youth baseball and softball leagues have donated money to the ball fields.
Now, they are competing for time on the diamonds with other teams that are not contributing.
The youth leagues think the arrangement is unfair.
“If we are going to continue to pour thousands of dollars into the diamonds, then Impact Softball needs to pony up some money,” according to Dave Dorsey, president of the New London Youth Baseball Association.
Dorsey also noted he found it increasingly difficult to schedule time on the diamonds.
“I have 22 teams trying to practice,” Dorsey said. “We do not have enough diamonds as it is for 22 teams.”
Chad Mix, sole proprietor of Impact Fastpitch Softball, said he has no problem scheduling time on the fields.
“I’ve had coaches who had problems when they tried to book them the day before or two days before,” Mix said. “I think there probably is a capacity issue on the most sought after diamonds like Memorial or Pfeifer.”
Mix said he has donated entry fees for participants in the Girls Youth Softball team. But he did not want to contribute toward concession stands or batting cages because his teams do not use those things.
He also defended the higher cost to play with the Impact team.
“We travel more, we play more, we charge way more because we don’t do any tournaments to fundraise and offset the costs to play,” Mix said.
Mix said Impact pays significantly more to participate in its tournaments, adding that the most expensive tournament fee he has paid was $2,450.
Although Impact is privately owned, Mix said he was not doing it to make money.
“I have a real job,” Mix said.
Carrie Schneider, president of the nonprofit New London Girls Youth Softball League, said the funds raised by the 300 players and their families go back into the community and into maintaining the diamonds.
She said the Girls Youth Softball tournament generates revenues for local businesses because the families stay overnight and eat at restaurants.
“Do we have other programs where we have different fees for non-profit versus profit?” Mayor Gary Henke asked.
Hoerth said Parks and Rec charges nonprofit groups and private parties different fees for renting picnic shelters, Washington Center or the gym.
The committee did not vote on any recommendation for charging fees.