Archive for Wednesday, April 15, 1992

DIAMOND CRUNCH HITTING LAWRENCE HARDER THAN EVER

April 15, 1992

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The second weekend in May looms large for Scott Holzmeister, commissioner of the Holcom and Houk-Ice youth baseball leagues.

This month, he and other league officials welcomed nearly 190 13- and 14-year-olds to the Houk-Ice tryouts.

They were expecting 130.

Holcom League tryouts for 15- and 16-year-olds are scheduled for May 9-10.

"If that happens in the Holcom League then we're really out of luck," he said.

What they are is out of space.

Holzmeister and other league officials planned for 10 Houk-Ice League teams of 13 players. To handle the overflow, he said they hoped to find enough money and coaches to add four teams. Failing that, they'll start a developmental league to get kids on the field practicing fundamentals.

"It's really important to us that, at 13 and 14, every kid who wants to gets to play," he said. "That's a key developmental age."

ADD THE FIVE teams planned for the Holcom League and that makes 19 teams playing full time on Holcom Red and five days a week on Holcom Gold. KU is chipping in eight dates at Hoglund-Maupin Stadium this summer to help.

The problem is widespread. Ice Field the big diamond at Holcom Complex is constantly in use by Lawrence's top four youth teams. Meanwhile, the Douglas County Amateur Baseball Assn. has been forced to make cuts among the city's youngest age groups for years. Those cut are relegated to the parks and recreation program.

"This is the first year it's really hit us, and everyone says, `Whoa, it's hit us,'" Holzmeister said. "It was always down the road, down the road, down the road. Down the road is here."

It's everywhere, says Fred DeVictor, director of the parks and recreation department.

"THERE IS a major need for more ball diamonds for youth and adults," DeVictor said. "We need two more lighted diamonds immediately, and in the next five years we need probably another two or three."

That is just for the city's youth program, which he said had grown from between 400 and 500 participants in 1988 to 1,200 last summer.

Adult slow pitch is ballooning, too. Supervisor Bob Stanclift reported today that at least 244 teams are registered this summer, up from 211 two years ago.

"Talking to Bob, we need two or three more (diamonds) for adults, and in the next five years we need a five- to eight-diamond complex to take care of our growth," DeVictor said.

All that takes is money. Until last year the city made available up to $100,000 in bonds for parks and recreation projects. Last year that was raised to $250,000 for community improvements. Of that, $75,000 went for improvements to the depot in North Lawrence not a parks and rec request and most of the balance went to the first phase of renovations to the Community Building.

"It's a matter of priorities," DeVictor said. "Right now the Community Building is our number one priority and diamonds are our number two priority, as a staff."

ONE STEP toward a solution lies southwest of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive at the Youth Sports Inc. complex.

In addition to its soccer and football fields, YSI has two small baseball diamonds already in place and in use by DCABA and plans for two more, which would create a clover leaf similar to Holcom Complex. YSI also has tons of room to grow.

But YSI has no running water, and it needs it. It has no lights, which it needs. It also needs to pave its parking lots and build a concession stand.

"We want to form a partnership with the city," said Harley Catlin, YSI president. "We have facilities out there that could really help the city out."

YSI would like to have city money for its improvements. Although still being developed, the issue will come before the city commission within a month, DeVictor said.

"THE PARKS and recreation advisory board said they would buy into putting city money into the facility if the city would mainly be responsible for it," DeVictor said.

The question is whether the city and YSI can work through who is responsible for what.

"We want to make absolutely sure it stays a youth park for kids," Catlin said. "We started this thing because there were not enough facilities for kids anyway."

The point is there aren't enough facilities for anybody anymore, which is why improving YSI is a necessary step.

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