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By Tom Wilmoth and
Talk about sticker shock!
That's exactly what Bedford County's American Legion baseball team got recently.
The team, which has had a home behind Forest Middle School for years and years, suddenly finds itself priced out of the market.
"Our rate has tripled," said Big Island Head Coach Kelley Russell.
Indeed, according to Russell, his team paid approximately $800 for use of Jim Thacker Field the last few seasons. This year, he's being asked to pony up approximately $2200.
The jump in the price has nothing to do with any improvements to the field or its facilities. Nor does it have to do with the rising price of real estate in the Forest community.
Rather, it has to do with enforcement of existing policy.
Bedford County Public Schools (BCPS) policy states that youth sports organizations that are not sponsored or operated by the schools or Bedford County Parks and Recreation, whose principal place of business is located in Bedford County but which do not serve Bedford County Public School students exclusively, have to pay all applicable charges.
For baseball teams playing this summer, that means—if the teams aren't comprised solely of BCPS students—there is a $50 per hour charge for use of the baseball fields with an additional $25 per hour if the lights are turned on. That includes use for both games and practices.
Last month, after schools began enforcing the policy and some objections were raised with school board members, the board voted to allow teams that have just BCPS students on their rosters a flat $400 fee for the season.
According to Randy Hagler, the school system's chief financial officer, in the past some schools weren't charging teams anything to use the fields, or some schools were charging participants $25 per season.
“It seems like all three high schools were interpreting (the policy) on their own,” he said.
None of the schools were following the policy 100 percent. Hagler said all of the teams should have been paying the full fees in the past.
“I told all the AD's that all fees apply,” he said. That enforcement led to the alteration to the policy by the board.
But a team must be 100 percent compliant with the policy, meaning no participants from another school system, homeschool or private school may be on the team, if the team is to receive the reduced fee provided for through the recent policy change.
“If you are a travel team 100 percent comprised of Bedford County Public Schools students, you get a reduced rate,” Hagler said. “If you have other people on your team, then all fees apply.”
The Big Island team includes players who attend school outside of Bedford County, including several who go to Liberty Christian Academy, in Lynchburg.
The ramifications of the decision to enforce the policy have been immediate and acute for American Legion ball. Russell and assistant coach Jeff Rudisill have worked with other Legion teams to revise the Big Island schedule. The original schedule had a total of 16 games (junior and senior ball) at Thacker Field. Currently, that number has been pared down to eight, with a number of games moving to venues such as Brookville High School and Salem's Kiwanis Field.
Russell stated that he "only got wind of (the change) last week."
Big Island Post 219 teams have called the field their home for at least the past 15 summers. Should the policy remain in force, it will be a home which is lightly used.
Hagler said, at this point, he had not received any direction to change the policy further, though he knows several board members have been contacted about the situation with the Legion team that plays at Forest Middle School.
“I don't know if our board picks this up again or not,” Hagler said. “No one has directed me to make any more changes or variances on this.”
The board's next meeting will be held Thursday, June 26. “The board is aware of the issue but they have not directed me to bring the policy back,” he said. “All fees apply, that's the way the policy reads.”
What is less clear is the justification for the hourly rates. Russell, his coaches and his team care for the field, including marking it. JF Head Coach Ryan Gilleland mows the grass without charge.
Russell stated, "This (additional cost) will (eventually) shut baseball down."