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Barker bids for changes in sports, youth baseball

Richard Barker grew up in the Brookhaven Dixie Youth BaseballLeague program during the mid 1970s. He advanced to the Dixie BoysLeague and graduated to the Dizzy Dean Baseball Senior League wherehe helped win a state tournament championship in 1982.

Still active in athletics, Barker recognizes a pressing need fora unified, consolidation of local youth league activities. He wouldlike to see football, baseball and soccer leagues all workingtogether and using the same sports complex. Call it the Ole BrookAthletic Club. Different sports, also basketball, would all comeunder the same umbrella.

Barker, a physical therapist, shared his vision with the KiwanisClub of Brookhaven last week. Regarding Keystone Park, location ofthe aging Dixie Youth facilities, Barker said he has seen a steadydecline. “Entry fees are up and participation is down. Peoplewonder what they are paying for.”

Barker said a night at the ballpark should be a pleasantexperience for old and young alike. That means adequate restrooms,bleachers and concession stands for both Keystone fields.

“We would like to see a new facility for baseball and soccer,”said Barker. “We would like to have something similar to what theyhave in Summit.”

The Windsor Gay Youth Sports Complex at Summit is a beautifulsight to behold. It features five playing fields and one largeconcession stand. Three fields are standard Dixie Youth size andtwo are larger for Dixie Boys. The facility will celebrate its 40thanniversary next spring.

Windsor Gay, District Six Dixie Youth Director, said restroomsshould be the No. 1 priority at Keystone. Both fields also needlots of attention and improvement.

Gay said he had been in contact with Brookhaven Dixie Youthcommissioner Weldon Smith regarding the facilities. “Weldon is agood friend of mine. I told him that Brookhaven wouldn’t get tohost any more tournaments unless some improvements were made to thefields. One person can’t do it. It takes a lot of people workingtogether.”

Barker said corporate sponsorship could help finance theconstruction of a new sports complex. “I think some companies wouldjump at the opportunity to put their name on a playing field.”

In another matter, Barker said he would like to see area highschool coaches become more involved in the youth leagues. Manyyouth league coaches don’t have an adequate knowledge when it comesto teaching skills and basic fundamentals.

“I would like to see the high school coaches sponsor a hitting,fielding and pitching clinic for the coaches every year before theseason starts.”

A dedicated runner and triathlete, Barker expressed hisdisappointment when he learned that the Ole Brook Run had beencanceled. The Mississippi Track Club usually conducts such events,providing the electronic timer and computer printouts for the race.A scheduling conflict on Sept. 29, the Ole Brook run date, was themain reason for canceling the event.

“The Ole Brook Run brought in a lot of people from out of town,”said Barker. “It’s a good promotion for Brookhaven and LincolnCounty.”

Barker’s proposal was to borrow an electronic clock from theMagee Track Club and still hold the race. In fact, the Ole BrookRun could be expanded to a triathlon, which includes running,swimming and bicycling. A quarter to half-mile swim could be heldat Lake Lincoln as the first stage of the race. Participants wouldbike their way to the Brookhaven city limits and finish with arun.

Looking at the area football programs, Barker said he would liketo start a Pop Warner Football League for third and fourth graders.”There were 108 kids from Lipsey (Middle School) in the fifth andsixth grade who played peewee league football last fall. There wasa lot of interest in it.”

According to Barker, each county school could form a peewee teamor league. Interest would blossom if there were all-star gamesagainst other schools. It’s another case where high school coacheswould be asked to provide some clinics, instruction andguidance.

“We are looking for some people to lead this program,” saidBarker.

The number of dedicated volunteers and corporate sponsors willdetermine the success level of any project and this is a bigone.