Recreation officials tout special needs success

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Members of the Brookhaven Parks Commission met with the Board ofAldermen in Monday night’s work session to discuss the upcomingyear’s budget as well as to update them on the previous year’ssuccesses.

Recreation Department Director Terry Reid filled in the board onthe first year of the special needs T-ball and soccer programs,saying he considered it not only a success on the field but anemotional victory as well.

“It’s one of the most fulfilling things we’ve ever done,” hesaid. “These kids had never been able to play organized sportsbefore and we gave them the chance.”

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Reid said the special needs T-ball had been such a success thatrecreation officials had gotten together to figure out the nextstep, and soccer seemed the way to go. He said with the firstpractice Tuesday night, there are already 18 children signed up forthe soccer season.

The events have proven not only a source of hope and support forthe children that participate, but for the parents involved aswell.

“Through this, people have met other parents and made somepretty strong bonds,” he said. “Every kid had an adult there, andit’s been a support group for the parents, too.”

Reid said once the first year of special needs sports haspassed, the recreation department can apply for grants to help fundthe program.

Another topic of discussion was the walking trail, which willsee the completion of its lighting project this week. Reid saidthere is already considerable usage on the trail and that heexpects it to go up in the future as the weather cools down.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates renewed his questioning ofrecreation department officials on what he perceived as lack ofparticipation in traditionally black areas of town. He pointed outhis displeasure that the city’s tennis courts, which had recentlybeen repaved, had been upkept and used, while the city swimmingpool had fallen into disrepair and closed several years ago.

“I was on that board and I was outnumbered,” Bates told Reid.”I’m not blaming you, but what we’ve got to do is make sure thereis a program that works that is not a separate program forBrookhaven.”

The A.L. Lott baseball program did not have enough communityparticipation to have a league this year, which has concerned Batesand others since the few children who signed up were worked in withDixie Youth teams instead.

Reid countered Bates by telling him perhaps he misunderstood thesituation.

“You always say people on the east side are not taken care of,”Reid told Bates, “but they play flag football, basketball and theother sports. Forty percent of our football kids are from the eastside of town.”

Reid went on to point out that Bates had not consistently beenout to watch any of the recreation department sports enough to makea clear judgment on participation.

“They play everything but baseball. This is not something I’mjust saying. Go look for yourself,” he said.

Mayor Bob Massengill backed up Reid’s statement.

“I went to some flag football games and a significant number ofboth races were participating,” he said. “And it’s worth going to.Not only are there both black and white participating, last yearthere was a young lady who could outrun everyone.”

Reid assured the board that in spite of all the recreationdepartment efforts, the A.L. Lott baseball program had dwindledwithout a strong community leader to rally the local children andparents to get involved as the late Bob White had done.

“We have offered everything over there that we’ve offeredanywhere else,” he said.

Bates said he realized the issue had become redundant.

“What are we beating here?” he asked. “Are we beating a deadhorse?”

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner said perhaps the answer to lackof baseball participation lies within the community on the eastside of town.

“Maybe we should find out what they’re interested in rather thantrying to make them play baseball,” he said. “If they play morebasketball over there, maybe we need to go in that direction.”

Parks commission board member Woody Breland assured the groupthat efforts would continue to reach an agreement on the baseballissue.

“We’re pursuing alternatives and looking for one that willinvolve the people of the community,” he said. “We’re not givingup. I don’t believe there are 300 kids out there that want to playbaseball, but we have 70 or 80 who have found other places to play,and we’re working on how to get them back.”