2010-08-18 / Front Page

Disadvantaged kids may get sidelined

By Jim McConnell
The Chester Presbyterian Basketball League (CPBL) is something of a dinosaur, a throwback to a simpler time when kids played sports for fun, and parents weren’t willing to do just about anything to help their 8-yearolds become the next big thing on ESPN.

Lee White, president of the Chester Presbyterian Basketball League, is concerned the kids who participate in his league may not be able to afford to continue playing because of a county fee. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Lee White, president of the Chester Presbyterian Basketball League, is concerned the kids who participate in his league may not be able to afford to continue playing because of a county fee. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer By operating a free basketball league for the last 45 years, the CPBL has helped hundreds of the county’s most impoverished children learn the values of teamwork and physical fitness, while providing those same kids a positive outlet for their energy.

But just as the dinosaurs did so many years ago, the league faces a threat to its very existence: a new $5 fee that must be paid by all participants in youth sports leagues that are co-sponsored by the Chesterfield Parks and Recreation Department.

The fee, which was approved by the board of supervisors to help offset $150,000 of parks and recreation’s $1.9 million budget deficit, applies to all leagues whose seasons started after July 1.

That’s not a problem for families who can find $5 in change just by looking through their couch cushions. But for those struggling to keep food on their tables, that money could be the difference between their children playing basketball and finding trouble on the streets.

The CPBL serves between 400-500 kids, amounting to $2,000-$2,500 in fees.

At the Aug. 5 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission (PRAC), an impassioned CPBL president Lee White informed parks and recreation Director Mike Golden that CPBL won’t be able to hold its 2010-11 basketball season if its leaders are forced to collect the $5 fee from the families they serve.

“It’s very hard to do what we do and keep it free, but a lot of our kids simply can’t afford to pay,” White said.

That’s no exaggeration to the people who know and interact with the community that provides a significant portion of CPBL’s players. Arthur Smith, president of the Chesterfield Girls Basketball League (CGBL), estimated that 40 to 45 percent of the families who participate in CPBL lack the resources to pay the $5 fee.

Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle also has first-hand knowledge of the situation; her children played basketball in CPBL, and she called it “a great experience.”

At the same time, Jaeckle didn’t think it was appropriate for her to intercede on behalf of CPBL while other organizations throughout the county still would have to pay the fee.

“I feel really bad for Lee’s program. That’s their signature, and I know they still want to be free, but every club has ways to help kids who can’t afford to pay,” she said. “They’ll just have to work on getting more money from sponsors.”

That’s just what the CPBL’s board of directors decided to do. Still, it’s an imperfect solution to White, who contends the fee is actually a tax because the revenue generated will go to the county’s general fund instead of being linked directly to services provided for co-sponsored leagues by parks and recreation.

“It’s kind of sad because people already give us money to keep the league free, and now we’re asking for money to pay this tax,” he said. “But we’re not going to collect it from the kids. We’re just not going to do that.”

White isn’t alone in his opposition to the fee. Representatives of several other local youth sports associations spoke in support of his position during the PRAC meeting, including Richmond Kickers youth soccer president Rob Ukrop, who noted the irony in county supervisors attempting to raise revenue on the backs of children after committing $4.3 million to the privately owned SportsQuest project.

Smith said many people feel deceived by the entire process.

“We were originally led to believe the fee was necessary to maintain the level of services we received from the county. Later we found out there’s no guarantee the money is going to parks and rec – that’s what we’re upset about,” he added. “If I knew the money was going to parks and rec, I’d have no problem stroking the check.”

Both Golden and Robert Forman, one of PRAC’s two Bermuda District representatives, pointed out that the $150,000 that will be raised through collection of the $5 participation fee already has been allocated to parks and rec through the restoration of outdoors staff and programs that were slated for elimination during the latest round of budget cuts.

Jaeckle made a similar point and also noted that there has been immense confusion about the SportsQuest deal, which involved money from the capital improvements budget, not the county’s regular operating budget. Capital improvements monies are earmarked specifically for new facilities, such as sports fields, police stations and libraries.

“It’s the most difficult part of the political process, that nobody really realizes what’s going on until it affects them,” Jaeckle said.

At this point, the people who stand to be most affected by the $5 sports participation fee are the families who count on CPBL’s continued operation this winter. While White questions how he can be forced to collect “taxes” for the county, Golden pointed out that the only way the fee can be rescinded is through action by the same board of supervisors that approved it.

“We’ll need assurance you’re going to pay the fee before we assign you a facility [for practices and games],” Golden told White. “We don’t have the authority to waive the fee. If we waive it for you, we’d have to waive it for everybody else, too.”

Added PRAC chairman Ron Maxey: “I hear everyone’s concerns, and they’re all valid points. I’m just not sure what we can do about it.”

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