HARTSELLE — Parks and Recreation Director Tom Chappell said Hartselle will remain part of Dixie Youth Baseball and that any changes the city makes after taking over the local program's administration will be designed to make youth sports more enjoyable.
“This is all about recreation and we want it to be fun,” he said Friday, one day after the vice president of the nonprofit organization Hartselle Dixie Youth Baseball filed a police report about missing funds.
The parent-run organization has operated youth baseball in Hartselle for more than three decades.
After issues surrounding the organization's financial operations emerged for the fourth time since 2000, however, Mayor Randy Garrison said he directed Chappell to bring youth baseball under the control of the city.
“These games are played on fields the city provides and money is passing through concession stands the public owns,” the mayor said. “Enough is enough. The city has procedures and policies in place to prevent this from happening.”
Athens City was in a similar situation in 2007 when questions arose about how the Girls Softball Association was using money. The issue in Athens involved whether money raised through the league associated with the city should be used to subsidize travel softball teams.
The council eventually voted to put all youth recreation programs under city control.
Holly Hollman, grant coordinator and communications specialist for Athens, said city oversight has worked well and registration for various recreational programs continues to grow.
She said during budget hearings earlier this year, the Recreation Department reported that nearly 5,000 children are participating in some type of recreational program the city offers.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said having city oversight of all recreational programs is a more efficient way to operate because city employees handle every aspect from finances and scheduling to concession stands.
Hartselle plans to do the same with youth baseball.
Chappell said the city will handle registration, collect fees, organize teams, hire and pay umpires, and operate concessions.
“We should be able do this without additional permanent employees,” he said.
Chappell said he plans to develop a pool of seasonal employees that will likely be high school and college students and they will serve as bookkeepers and concession stand workers.
Last year, he said, the registration fee was $85 and he plans to lower that cost to $75 with discounts available for parents with multiple children in the league. Chappell said the city will also continue the practice of offering scholarships for parents who need financial assistance.
“We don’t want to cut any child out of the opportunity to participate in recreational sports,” he said.
Chappell said 424 kids, ages 6-13, participated in youth baseball in Hartselle last year.
He said parents will have more opportunities to register because registration will be at the recreation center for about a month during operating hours.
“We also plan to make registration available on Saturdays,” Chappell said.
He said parents will continue to serve as coaches and that he will work on procedures for how the baseball draft will be held.
“We’ll do a background check on all coaches as they do today,” Chappell said.
Dixie Youth Baseball has existed since 1955 and its mission is to “promote development of strong character, a right attitude, a sense of responsibility and citizenship in youngsters using the game of baseball as a vehicle,” according to the organization's website.
Dixie Youth Baseball state director Raymond Housel said Hartselle has always been a valued member of the organization and will continue to be so.