By Marty Farmer
Too many ballplayers. Too many games. Too many competing uses. Not enough baseball diamonds.
That's the shorthand that led to a tense two weeks as the Park District of Oak Park and the Oak Park Youth Baseball & Softball program — and its parents — butted heads over how field space would be allocated this summer.
The issue was mainly resolved just before a March 20 park board meeting when the park district spiked the number of field hours it made available for baseball and softball. Bill Sullivan, president of OPYBS, said his group is at 95 percent of the time allotment it had last season and that the shortage will cost the league about 200 games over the season.
"Of course," said Sullivan, "we're very respectful of the fact we have limited space in our community and that there are other groups and organizations who use the fields. However, as a revered organization that is the park district's largest spring affiliate, we need more hours to properly serve the players in our organization."
Diane Stanke, the park district's director of Marketing and Customer Service, said, "the reality is we have 82 acres of land and we serve a population of 50,200 people in Oak Park. We are significantly under the national average of acreage to population and it's been that way forever. Unfortunately, we can't grow land so it's an issue that we're consistently trying to address, but it's a challenge."
Working off the park district-created facility use and allocation management program — PACT (an acronym for Partner, Associate, Companion, and Tenant) — the park district and OPYBS have been in negotiations to find a solution in terms of permitted hours of field use. Per the PACT program, which was created to establish a fair, equitable and cost-effective system for affiliates using park district facilities, each affiliate is afforded a certain number of field hours based on their number of participants.
The primary issue is that Oak Park has limited resources to satisfy the needs of nine Partners, two Associates (OPYBS is one), and six Companions, plus Tenant usage within the PACT.
The PACT program currently calls for an allocation of three hours per participant in a given program. Since OPYBS has 1,500 players, its field hours allocation using the formula is approximately 4,500 permitted field hours. That is well under the approximately 7,800 hours OPYBS claims it needs. All other affiliates who use park district facilities are allocated permitted field hours in the same manner.
So despite the PACT formula, the park district initially allocated 6,800 hours to OPYBS as discussions began for the season ahead. The organization's hours allocation spiked to 7,389.5 hours right before the park board meeting on March 20. Approximately 50 people attended the meeting, including several league presidents, coaches and supporters of OPYBS, pushing for an increase in field hours for their organization.
"We're closing the gap rapidly in terms of the hours we need," said Sullivan said. "We're currently at 95 percent of our 2012 scheduled field hours, which still leave us about 400 field hours short of what we need. Jan [Arnold, park district executive director] said that's a 5 percent variance, but that still equates to about 200 games lost. Considering that we run 11 leagues with 130 house teams, and each of them plays 16 games a season, plus playoff tournaments, I think losing 200 games is significant even though its 5 percent."
Moving forward, the park board will revisit the PACT program hours allocation to hopefully benefit not only OPYBS but all the affiliates. The park district and its affiliates are hoping to improve the process by integrating more specific, earlier planning deadlines for future seasons.
"It's really all about negotiating because every affiliate asks for more than is frankly available," said Arnold. "That's understandable, and I think we're making progress in terms of improving the process for next year and beyond. The park board will reexamine PACT and see how we can improve it moving forward."