Clewiston Recreation’s popular spring baseball program was turned over to a volunteer board after the season ended last year.
Roughly 500 kids participated last spring, filling up parks and green spaces around town with the community-sponsored teams.
The city’s recreation department ran the baseball program for the past five years, with the number of participants nearly doubling from the first year to the last.
This year, however, a volunteer board of about 17 members will be organizing and running the program.
The board is made up of members of the community, some have been coaches for the city’s program in the past, while others have children or grandchildren who participate.
According to board president Kelley Autrey, all of the volunteers are doing it for the good of the kids.
The new board has already made some changes to the program, including becoming affiliated with the Babe Ruth League.
As in past years, all the teams will play against each other at the Clewiston baseball fields, but the program will also host an all-star team. Those players may travel across Southwest Florida to play against other teams, including teams in Sanibel, Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, Naples and Alva.
While the new baseball board busily prepares for the upcoming season, folks at City Hall are happy to help.
“In my opinion, the recreation department should provide safe, clean facilities. They don’t need to provide programs,” said City Manager Al Perry.
Perry said the department will help keep the fields mowed, chalked and ready for play, but the rest will be up to the volunteer board.
The city also made sure to leave a little money in the pot to help the new board kick start its program.
For some, the move to put the baseball program back into the hands of the people seemed to have come out of left field.
For others, including City Manager Perry, it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
Perry said not only did a volunteer board run it for decades before the city took over (Perry was one of those parents to sit on the board), he said it would give the already overloaded recreation department a chance to focus on other things.
“It’s time for parents to step up and take their turn,” said Perry. “They’re going to do a fine job.”
The board has already shown its dedication and capability even before last season ended: They helped send all the players to a Marlin’s game in Miami back in May.
But others may question the city’s motive for giving up control of such a successful program. According to Recreation Director Lance Ramer, the program helped raise enough money not only to pay for itself, but to help pay for other recreation programs operated by the department.
With the city commission looking for ways to cut the cost of recreation for city tax payers, it may seem counterintuitive to cut a money-making program.
But according to Perry, whether or not the baseball program was in fact a money maker depends on who you ask.