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March 4, 2014

Oneonta's softball league gets a reprieve

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A professional softball umpire and a college senior have stepped up to the plate to secure the future of Oneonta’s adult softball league.

The Oneonta Parks and Recreation Commission approved a proposal Monday night made by Louie Barnes and Eric Scheer to run the league for men’s and women’s teams this summer.

“This league has been around forever,” Barnes of Oneonta said. “There’s absolutely no reason not to try to keep this going.”

The proposal, which is among several efforts underway as the city transitions out of providing recreation programs, next goes to the Common Council’s Community Improvement Committee for review before consideration by the full council.

Barnes, a softball umpire, has been involved with the league for more than 40 years, and Scheer, a SUNY Oneonta student, has taken part in the program for seven years, including working for the city during the summer as a scorekeeper. Barnes said they would organize the league and run the program, which is about 10 weeks long, at no charge to the city.

However, Barnes told commissioners he was concerned about costs to run the program and how much teams would be paying. This year, teams would be charged $600, which includes at estimated $100 for insurance and a $100 bond in case a team forfeits a game.

As part of the proposal, Barnes asked the commission to waive the field-use fee, and commissioners supported the request.

Tim Catella, commission chairman, said waiving the fee, which is $50 a day, is a productive first step during the transition. The city wants to do all it can to maintain quality playing fields and support efforts to continue the adult softball league, Catella said.

“Instead of being a city-run league,” he said, “it will be an independently run league.”

Oneonta city officials and Common Council members in recent months have debated the municipality’s role of providing recreational programs that attract a significant number of participants living outside city boundaries.

In December, the council authorized Mayor Dick Miller to enter into a contract with the Oneonta Family YMCA to provide summer recreational and swimming programs for children for $65,000 this year. The YMCA would seek additional revenue through application and nonresident fees.

Catella said the transition with the YMCA is going well and commissioners will discuss assessing changes. The Community Improvement Committee also will review a plan that the youth tennis program be operated by the Oneonta Tennis Club, which had run the program years ago, he said.

City Recreation Director Steven Andrews updated commissioners on the status of placing other children’s programs. Oneonta Boys and Girls Club officials are discussing taking on the Kiwanis youth baseball and the Rotary T-ball programs, he said, and Oneonta Little League is considering taking on Pony League baseball, he said.

“I want them all to happen,’’ Andrews said. Barnes and Scheer have presented a “real solid proposal” for the adult softball league, he said.

Scheer and Barnes estimated that each night the league attracts about 150 people to Neahwa Park. The games are played Monday through Thursday, with Friday held as a make-up night in case of rain-outs or other postponements.

Barnes said about 16 teams are expected to participate this year. However, whether the league serves modified or advanced players depends on which teams sign up. The expected start date would be May 19.

Barnes said if the proposal is approved by the Common Council, he will adopt most of the rules previously administered by the city Recreation Department.

But enforcement of other rules will be stricter, he said. Specifically, no cheating will be allowed, Barnes said, and any team members smelling of alcohol won’t be allowed to play.

Barnes said he hopes that he still will be able to be an umpire at the softball games.

Barnes said city officials have argued against providing the recreation programs because participants include nonresidents. However, as a result of the league, local businesses benefit from players who buy food for themselves and family members, plus team members who go to bars after games, he said.

Barnes said if the league goes forward this year, he and Scheer will be able to determine costs for next year, but they want to maintain the team fee at $400.

The proposal by Barnes and Scheer included cost projections for teams, requested use of specific fields and identified ways the city could help, such as waiving the field-use fee. Costs to hire umpires and chalk the base lines also were mentioned.

“In speaking to numerous players, managers and umpires, frustration over the fact that there may not be a softball league in Oneonta this summer was evident,” they said in the proposal. “We believe that operating and maintaining an adult softball league in Oneonta would be beneficial not only to the community and local businesses but to each individual member that participates.”