April 24, 2014

Mostly cloudy

Brunswick youth sports program contract to continue

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick leaders agreed to extend a 10-year contract to Brunswick Youth Sports to continue to offer T-ball, baseball and softball recreational league programs for kids ages 5 to 18.

The announcement was a welcome relief for the more than 50 parents, coaches and kids who participate in the BYS program and attended City Council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on Monday night.

Dan Geyer, a board member of Brunswick Youth Sports, addresses City Council’s committee-of-the-whole on Monday during a discussion about who will provide youth softball, baseball and T-ball programs to the city. Following brief comments, Council agreed to extend a 10-year offer to BYS on the condition the group works with the city to upgrade field conditions and make capital investments. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

BYS, a nonprofit organization, has been providing the programs for more than 45 years, but has not had a contract since its 40-year agreement expired in 2007.

Last month, Parks and Recreation Director John Piepsny said there was interest from Premier Athletics, a private, for-profit company to offer recreational sports to the city.

“We had a private organization come to us and expressed an interest in providing services,” Piepsny said.

“Over the last 50 years, we’ve never had this situation.”

Piepsny said Council had a two options: Members could ask both companies to provide proposals for services or they renew the contract with BYS.

Piepsny said that while there have been issues with the upkeep of fields provided by BYS, he said new board members are committed to making changes and urged Council to consider extending an offer to BYS.

After Piepsny spoke Monday, Jason Gillis, of Premier Athletics, told Council he became involved because he thought his organization could provide a better recreation program at a lower cost to the families of young athletes. The organization serves about 250 kids in a travel sports program.

“First thing we would offer is better fields,” he said. “In our rec league system, I’d guarantee we’d be $5 less and our kids wouldn’t have to sell chocolate.”

But after making his remarks, Gillis said he wanted to withdraw his company’s name from consideration.

“This is a very muddy situation that we have with the city,” he said. “Me and my program want nothing to do with this.”

Council members said they support BYS, but would like to see an increased investment in the city-owned baseball fields the group uses.

“As a resident, not a councilman, I wasn’t impressed with BYS, but it was adequate,” Dave Coleman, 3rd Ward, said before casting a vote in favor of the agreement. “It has to be an aggressive agreement, because we can’t continue the status quo.”

Nearly everyone at Monday’s meeting clapped loudly when Council members made a motion to direct the city’s law director to create a 10-year contract with BYS.

Rhonda McClelland, who coaches in BYS, was moved to tears by the decision.

“I just feel like, as a nonprofit, our goal is to serve all the kids,” she said, adding coaches in BYS volunteer their time and are not paid by the organization.

“Parents also have a say,” she said. “They can come to our meetings and express their opinions.”

She said her organization plans to work with the city to develop better fundraisers to give more money back to the parks and improve the fields.

“No youth sports organization is perfect,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a little hard to make changes, but we’re working on that now.”

Piepsny said he believes the contract will be more of a partnership between the city and BYS rather than a lease agreement.

“They have an interest in hosting events to get sponsor money to put back into the fields,” he said. “I think the lines of communication have opened up greatly and it’s going to be a partnership.”

Dan Geyer, a member of the BYS board, said he was glad to see the organization didn’t have to get into a bidding war to keep what had become a “good-faith” agreement with the city.

“We didn’t want to get into a bidding war because it wouldn’t benefit the city or the kids,” Geyer said.

He said he would work with Piepsny to address some of the major concerns relating to the ballfields.

“We’ll go out and walk those fields together and address the areas of concern,” he said.

On Tuesday, Piepsny said he already has sent a letter to Law Director Ken Fisher outlining what he’d like to see in a contract with BYS.

“They have a lease agreement to utilize the fields and we’re hoping a certain amount of money will go back to the fields,” Piepsny said.

Brunswick Youth Sports uses city fields at Hopkins Park, Boston Knolls Mooney Park, Neura Park and Pumpkin Ridge. It also has an agreement with Brunswick Schools to use fields at Applewood, Huntington and Kidder elementary schools, Willets and Edwards middle schools and Brunswick High School.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.