Last of Surfside Beach 'Youth League' fights to keep tradition

Last of Surfside Beach 'Youth League' fights to keep tradition

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Many people have fond memories of youth league baseball and softball. But for one Grand Strand town, the future of youth softball and baseball is up for discussion. Surfside Beach Town Council is set to decide Tuesday night whether to defund the town's sports programs at the Huckabee Park Complex.

According to Surfside Beach's website, the Huckabee Park Complex is 10 acres, with three baseball fields, four batting cages, two football fields, concessions and other facilities.  A small park is also there.  The land was given to the town about 40 years ago as part of a grant, intended for public recreation.

The Surfside Beach Youth Sports Association has managed youth league softball and baseball teams at the complex for years.  The league operates in the fall and spring, with last fall season bringing in 660 kids ages four to 16 to play ball.

"Anybody knows - kids don't have something to do, they're going to look for mischief.  I think the stat is twice as many kids get in trouble if they don't have community places to go to or something like this - even though it's a rainy day out here kid's just want to get out and exercise," baseball parent and coach Jeff George said.  He's also the vice president of the Surfside Beach Youth Sports Association.

"It's not for the parents, not for us volunteers, not for the coaches - it's for these kids. They need a place and a future," George continued.

George is one of nine board members heading the fight to keep youth baseball and softball leagues at Huckabee Park.

"Why get rid of all sports?" George asked.  "Everything that has to do with youth, why get rid of it in Surfside? When your sign coming in to Surfside says oh wait, welcome to the family beach."

George said association members meet with Surfside Beach Town Council members toward the end of each year to discuss financing and other plans for the next year.  At the end of 2016, he said, that didn't happen.

"Our problem is, like any business - at the end of the year you usually talk about it, what went wrong and move forward.  This year we get no communication back with the town council or anything going forward on what our ideas are, what their ideas are...several emails, phone calls and no major returns - we started digging around, looked in to past meetings and stuff like that...we found out on meeting notes, which is public notice, they're looking to defund the program."

George and other parents said trouble began when Hurricane Matthew hit.  The park, understandably, wasn't the first to be cleaned.  However, when parents asked the city to clean it and for a chalker to line the fields and finish the season, they said council was unaccommodating.

In town council's notes from Nov. 18, council discusses the idea to sell the Huckabee Park Complex, subsequently defunding the youth sports program.  WMBF News reached out to council members for comment.  Councilman David Pellegrino said the complex does youthfor the town.  He explained the complex is actually outside of town limits, and most Surfside Beach residents, who are on fixed incomes, don't use the park.  However, he said he'd be open to selling the park to the youth sports association.  He also said because the land is attached to a grant requiring it to be used for recreation only, it's harder to sell.

Councilwoman Julie Samples said this in an email to WMBF News:

Thank you for reaching out.  First let me say that I cannot and would not speak for Council.  Speaking for myself, I can assure you that I support the Surfside Beach Youth Association and its desire to continue a relationship with the Town of Surfside Beach.  I am perplexed as to why the town would not want to continue supporting youth programs.

If the town receives a check for $11,000, it's questionable as to how much that could help the youthleague's cause if council decides to relinquish all help to the league.  Councilman Pellegrino said the town spends over $40,000 annually for the Huckabee Park Complex.

Both council members are in agreement that Surfside Beach is on a tight budget.

George said the Surfside Beach Youth Sports Association (SBYSA) met with some council members in December to present an alternate plan.

According to documents given the WMBF News, that plans asks for continued town support, but decreases it's responsibilities at Huckabee Park. SBYSA proposes to fertilize, cut and line the fields for use.  In return, SBYSA asks some of the following of Surfside Beach: to agree to give ownership of maintenance equipment, purchase re-usable baseball mounds amounting to $6,000, provide scoreboard and facility maintenance, pay for coaches background checks and utility bills as well as reimburse SBYSA for lawn care equipment in the amount of $13,500.

It costs $55 per child to play ball.  George said that money goes toward uniform and equipment costs.

SBYSA states 80 percent of the 660 kids who play softball and baseball live within a five-mile radius of the park.  Although not everyone lives within town limits, parents and coaches said they eat and spend money in the town.

While the park is not actually in Surfside Beach, it's listed on the town's website as a recreation area of the town. Parents, players and coaches plan to show up to Tuesday night's council meeting to voice concerns of losing the program.  The meeting is open to the public at 6:30 p.m.

For more on what the players, parents and coaches have to say, watch the videos above.

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