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Battle over ballfields rages on
South Kitsap Pee Wee officials and their supporters are scheduled to address the Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday night seeking assurances youth football won’t be squeezed out of its longstanding home at Givens Playfields by baseball programs they’ve come to consider more rival than partner.
Pee Wee officials claim they weren’t given adequate notice that use of the field would be discussed at the March 9 meeting, during which the council voted to transfer the lease previously held by the now-defunct South Kitsap Babe Ruth baseball league to the South Kitsap Western Little League.
Although the measure has already been voted on, the football parents and organizers plan to air their concerns at the April 13 meeting.
According to an e-mail distributed last month by the SK Pee Wee board of directors, the organization “has been informed by the city of Port Orchard that if the community does not show support for Pee Wees, we may not be allowed to share with Western Little League. We may lose our lease completely and they will award it solely to Little League or another organization entirely.”
Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola denies the football program is in any danger of losing its home, but the Pee Wee officials remain skeptical.
“I don’t think the mayor wants that field used for football,” said Cindie Morrill, whose two sons play youth football. “I know he’s partial to baseball, and it’s like he’s been after us for years.”
Baseball and football have maintained an unsteady alliance at the field since it was first constructed, mostly over whether there is sufficient time following the end of football season in the fall for the fields to be seeded so grass will grow by the time baseball takes over in the spring.
The most recent controversy began when the South Kitsap Babe Ruth League, for youth aged 13 to 15, folded earlier this year and contacted South Kitsap Western Little League about assuming the lease it had negotiated with the city.
“That’s something we’d obviously be interested in,” Bob Showers, president of South Kitsap Western, told the city council at the March 9 meeting — with no members of the Pee Wees present. “We’d like to use the second field up there, too.”
Showers said the Little League was more than willing to share the field with football, but Coppola isn’t convinced.
“Bob Showers is trying to circumvent the process,” he said this week, “and he wants the Pee Wees out of there. He’s tried approaching council members individually to try and get their support, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
All of the leases — the Little League and Babe Ruth leases now held jointly by South Kitsap Western and the lease held by the Pee Wees — are due to expire at the end of April.
“At that point, this whole thing will start up again,” Coppola predicted. “That’s why the Pee Wees are mobilizing now. They’re afraid when the dust settles they’ll be left without a place to play.”
“We were hit upside the head with this thing,” said Pee Wees President Chuck Burns. “We’ve had hundreds of kids playing there for years and all we want is to keep playing there. I don’t know why Bob Showers would sneak down to the city council without us there to give our side of the argument. I don’t see why we have to go through all of this.”
At the conclusion of the March 9 meeting, having been assured by Showers baseball and football could peacefully co-exist at the facility, the council voted to approve assigning the Babe Ruth lease to the Little Leaguers — but not without a stern warning.
“I know that in spite of the words, they do not get along,” said Councilman Fred Olin, himself a former Little League coach. “They cannot play in the same sandbox.”
Olin said his preference would be to allow the Pee Wees and South Kitsap Western to share the area to the west of the current Little League field and for the Pee Wees to have the Babe Ruth field.
“I see this as a way to provide two sand boxes,” he said. “Two separate leases for two separate parcels. No problem.”
“I kind of see us as the dad in this deal,” added Councilman Jerry Childs. “We’re telling you to get along or we’ll kick you both out.”
Coppola was even more direct.
“When I first took office several years ago,” he said, “the ongoing fight between the Pee Wees and the Babe Ruth league over the condition of the field took up almost three months of my time and about $7,200 of staff time dealing with it. We don’t have the staff resources to do that again, and I have said I will not referee another one of these battles.
“I told you then and I’m telling you now,” Coppola told Showers, “you will get along or you’ll both be gone. That’s the way it’s going to be because I get to decide this in the end.”
Coppola said he would oppose or veto any arrangement that did not accommodate both football and baseball at the field.
“My goal ultimately would be to find a separate place where we could build a combined soccer and football field,” he said. “But we don’t have the money to do that now, so it’s more of a long-term goal at this point. In the meantime, they’re just going to have to get along.”