Lee Ice has served as the city’s youth sports supervisor for 17 years, and perhaps no spring has been more hectic than this one.
That’s because Ice, who is tasked with scheduling summer youth baseball and softball games, has more contests to arrange than ever before — 952, to be exact — with fewer available fields.
“It’s getting done, but it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to accommodate all of these programs,” Ice said.
The increase stems from an agreement the city made last October to take over the Douglas County Amateur Baseball Association, which has three fields on the 4-H Fairgrounds at 21st and Harper streets.
However, two of those three DCABA diamonds are no longer usable at night because of faulty lighting systems. City electricians determined the switch boxes did not work properly at the Wrigley and Fenway fields and had the potential to short out. Also, the old quartz lights were not energy-efficient.
Ernie Shaw, interim director of the city’s parks and recreation department, made the call on the lighting systems.
“We didn’t want to put some kids on the field, turn lights on and then have something go wrong, however slim that chance might be,” Shaw said.
Fixing the lights at the two fields is estimated to cost between $15,000 to $25,000 — money that neither the city nor DCABA can afford for diamonds that are used only a few months a year.
“It would be nice to have them,” said Mark Hecker, city maintenance supervisor. “But is it $15,000 nice? I don’t know.”
Ice also lost a third field when Lawrence High’s softball diamond was wiped out by construction of new sports facilities at the school.
Thus Ice, who must make room for the 36 DCABA teams, has been forced to cram games into every available facility.
He now has 15 fields to work with — five at Holcom Complex, four at Youth Sports Inc., three at the fairgrounds, two at Sport2Sport (under lease agreement) and one at Broken Arrow Park.
Ice must determine times and locations for nearly 200 youth softball and baseball teams. Some of those games will begin as early as Monday, with the majority starting around Memorial Day.
If rainouts occur, further scheduling problems are likely.
“If I’ve got to deal with rain next week like we had this week, it could get ugly already,” Ice said.
A public forum on the city’s 2010 parks and recreation budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today in the Lawrence High cafeteria. Among the topics will be the city’s youth sports fields.
“We want to find out if parks and recreation is a core need in this community,” Ice said. “We don’t know. And that’s why we need input from the community.”
For now, though, Ice is making do with what he has. He still schedules a 6 p.m. game at the two light-less fairgrounds diamonds so teams can squeeze one game in before the sun goes down.
“I look at it more in terms of a challenge,” Ice said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to accommodate the kids.”