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Youth football, baseball officials insist they can play nice

Dozens of jersey-clad youth football and baseball enthusiasts crowded into the Port Orchard City Council Chambers on Tuesday night to insist they could peacefully co-exist at Givens Playfields — and to confront any who suggested they couldn’t.

“My belief is that we should share that complex,” said longtime South Kitsap Western Little League Coach Troy Strobel. “Whether we tear it down and build it back up to share both, or just accommodate what we have here.”

“South Kitsap Pee Wees accepts both leagues on the field,” agreed Elizabeth Harris representing the youth football group. “And because it’s a multi-use facility, it will never be a pristine baseball field or an Astro-Turf football field.

“Our only goal is to provide a safe place for our kids to play,” she said, “and for both sports in the community of Port Orchard.”

The gathering came a little over a month after an earlier meeting at which the council voted with no representatives of the South Kitsap Pee Wee football league present to allow South Kitsap Western to assume the lease on the field’s second baseball diamond.

That lease had been held by the South Kitsap Babe Ruth League until it ceased operations in February.

The lease expires at the end of the month, as does the Pee Wee football lease, and the council must decide at that point whether it wishes to negotiate with any or all of the parties.

South Kitsap Western Little League President Bob Showers attended the council’s March 9 meeting, at which the members voted to let the Little League assume the defunct Babe Ruth League’s lease on the adjacent field.

Because no effort was made to make sure the Pee Wees were also represented at the meeting, however, some were suspicious the lease assumption was simply the first step in letting the baseball league have the field all to itself.

The Pee Wees have sometimes had strained relations with both the Little Leaguers and the Babe Ruth organizers, generally over the condition of the grass, which must be reseeded and repaired soon after each football fall season in order to be ready for baseball in the spring.

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, who claims disputes between the baseball and football factions have cost the city thousands of hours and thousands of dollars of wasted staff time, voiced those fears when he was quoted in a March 16 Port Orchard Indepedent story (“Ballfield battle rages on”) as saying, “Bob Showers is trying to circumvent the process, and he wants the Pee Wees out of there.”

“Not once did I say I wanted the Pee Wees kicked off,” a visibly agitated Showers countered on Tuesday night. “I want (the Pee Wees) to know that.”

Showers asked Coppola whether his words had been quoted accurately, and said if they had been, “I don’t appreciate them. You don’t know me well enough to talk about me like that.”

Coppola did not respond to Showers’ challenge.

Showers also addressed SK Pee Wees President Chuck Burns, who was quoted in the newspaper as accusing him of “sneaking” down to the earlier council meeting when the football group wasn’t notified.

“For your information, I did not ‘sneak’ down here,” he said, “and I do not appreciate those words.”

Showers said the whole situation had been blown out of proportion, and Burns subsequently agreed things “got out of hand.

“I don’t think you have to worry about us working together fairly to do what’s best for the kids,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Ron Smith, a local youth basketball referee affiliated with neither side.

“I think everyone here is missing the point,” he said. “This is for the kids. Everyone’s getting lot in this battle, and when we make a decision we have to do what’s best for them.”

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