Youth baseball and parks tussle

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By Marty Farmer

Sports Editor

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."

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Posted: March 30th, 2014 1:40 PM

This article might as well be about AYSO. Both youth sports organizations are run like the mafia. It's shameful.

Change Agent from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2014 1:24 PM

Based on the comments, there seems to be an alarming number of concerns regarding the way Oak Park Youth Baseball is being managed-on and off the field. It appears the issues run deeper than field allocation. Perhaps the OPYBS board and the Park District would benefit by sending a survey to the OPYBS families to better understand the concerns of their paying customers and tax payers. And publish the results!A survey would be a good start for positive change.

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 30th, 2014 12:22 PM

A lot of Oak Park kids are playing travel ball in other towns. Towns like Naperville and Elmhurst field multiple travel teams, some full-time, some part-time like the Eagles. I'm grateful for the options we found outside of Oak Park, so my son could keep playing.

Another sports parent   

Posted: March 30th, 2014 7:14 AM

@realsitic - there are definitely good coaches and experiences that happen. My household coaches and outside of my household we have had some good experiences. We have also had numerous bad. To insure that it is good for the majority, the rules for fair play and placement on teams should reflect what other communities do and the national standard. It shouldn't be crafted in a way that relies on the goodwill (or personal interests) of the coach. Right now the rules of fair play aren't very fair.

Realistic from Oak Park IL  

Posted: March 30th, 2014 1:01 AM

Our son has enjoyed t ball, Jr Bronco, Eagles. He's been treated fairly, and I'm not part of the league or especially well connected. The vast majority of coaches we've met are using their best judgement for each kid, which doesn't mean they are always right. Yes, daddy ball is a factor at times, but the vast majority of kids are well treated. Let's not use exceptions to the rule to label the whole league, which is comprised of many fine volunteers.

Realistic from Oak Park IL  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 11:55 PM

If you think about it, with 1500 players, there are about 3000 parents and keeping 4500 people happy isn't going to happen. Sure, daddy ball happens here and there. But you can bet most coaches are doing their level best to do the right thing by each kid and could tell many stories about parents who lobby to have their kid on a certain team, overestimate their kids ability, insist on the kid playing certain positions, and are apparently grooming their kid at age 8 for OPRF baseball.

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 11:51 PM

At their age these kids are still young and developing and should get an equal chance to play. Sometimes it is the coaches who are not realistic about their own kids' abilities.

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 11:48 PM

Our problem was at the Jr Bronco/Bronco level. Why select a kid for the more competitive level of play, then have them sit while other kids of supposedly similar ability get all the playing time? I hope all the coaches didn't do this, but ours did. What do you tell your 10-12 year old when he works hard, listens to the coach and performs well when given the chance but is rarely given the chance, while other kids are allowed to make mistakes but never sit an inning? (continued)

Realistic from Oak Park IL  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 10:53 PM

OPYBS is a good league, not a perfect league. It has good intentions, by and large it delivers. Sure, connections matter to a degree, as they do in so much of life. But most coaches I've encountered (I am not a coach) do their level best to treat players fairly with playing time, position assignments, and to make good faith decisions about try outs. The flip side of the "connections" issue is some parents not as objective as they think they are about their kids ability, hence sour grapes.

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:53 PM

Totally agree with Another Sports Parent. Some national standards that are transparent and posted openly. Other towns do this with their baseball programs. Give all the kids a fair chance. Right now, which kids get on which teams is based on who the parents know. That's antiquated and embarrassing to our town.

Another Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:50 PM

Very interesting about the numbers.

Another Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:49 PM

As to the quality of coaching at the PD. There are two solutions. 1st, the PD doesn't have to follow that model. It could do the model that AYSO, Little League and OPYBS does, parents coach. Second, it could look to what RF is doing with Little League, I don't have a lot of information. I believe they work cooperatively. I would be interested to know more how that works. Yes being able to coach a OPYBS team is hard, those teams are given to insiders. It is an old boys' network. Opposite of AYSO

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:48 PM

all the decision making authority over which kids in their own child's age group make Bronco, Eagles, etc. Bronco coaches need to play everybody, not give all the playing time to kids on the Eagles. Lots of boys who love to play baseball have left for travel teams. Also no clear criteria for why some dads got coaching slots while others didn't. All these decisions made by insiders. A popularity contest that doesn't produce the best results for the kids.

Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:36 PM

Sure, the quality of the PD coaching was uneven at times. Teens hired to work with the younger kids sometimes were unskilled at keeping order, so the young ones would run wild instead of learning. But we also had inexperienced coaches in a travel program, at a much higher cost. Park district basketball league was a bright spot for us due to some thoughtful rule changes that created balanced teams. OPYBS needs to change its rules that give a few connected dads (continued)


Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:34 PM

@ another - brilliant insights. First, the Board heads all of the leagues and all of the team. Their friends are all the kids /parents picked for A leagues. Second, they wont allow any coaches who disagree with the board and all the Board children make the all star team and eagles. The truth is OPYBS is closer to 1,200 down from 1,800 6 years ago. They tell OPPD 1,500 to juice up hours. The truth is they are only hurting their own reputation and Long term viability of the program.

Another Sports Parent (again)  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:24 PM

What Oak Park needs is a national organization that runs softball and baseball -- akin to AYSO and Little League. So that local motivations and politics don't run kids sports.

Another Sports Parent (continued)  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:07 PM

Additionally, examining how the league treats the girls division v. the boys is important. The boys have an elevated "house" competitive league that is tryout based Jr. Broncos. The girls does not have an equal type division. Notice how significantly the girls numbers dwindle as the seasons progress. And notice how at the high school level, the numbers for girls is so small that the Freshman team doesn't make cuts. This is an institutional problem.

Another Sports Parent (continued)  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:01 PM

Watch the tryouts for the travel Falcon and Eagles and then see who makes it. Some of the best kids are cut -- to make room for long time coach's kids and board members. OPBYS is not an organization that supports the community and it uses the lack of competition to support individual goals of board members and long time coaches.

Another Sports Parent  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 7:59 PM

OPYBS is not an organization that exists for the best interests of the community or children. It functions for the best interests of the board members. Read the rules, read the provision about fair play. Now compare those rules to what River Forest's Little League requires. The rules are set up to support the ego of certain coaches and parents who believe more in winning one specific game over developing players.

Disagree pt 2  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:53 AM

I found the opybs and ayso coaching to be far better than the PD's. Are there issues in opybs? (Can't talk about ayso organizationally.) Sure, I can see that. However, my personal experience was that the people doing the coaching there, and in ayso, were far better than those at the PD. However, I was disappointed to hear that opybs no longer has non-dads coaching at the Bronco level. I do think getting the dads out of head coaching is a good thing.


Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:48 AM

While there are problems with opybs, as any org, I experienced issues with the PD as my kids were growing up: 1. Program timing focused on "stay at home moms/nanny" crowd and not working parents (despite representations when I asked about this that this was changing). 2. While there were a few bright spots, I found PD coaching poor in most instances. Sports programs were mainly glorified babysitting. Specifically, I found TBall skills classes and the basketball league to be worthless. Con't


Posted: March 28th, 2014 5:52 PM

@ sports parent. THANK YOU for addressing the 500 elephant in the room. OPYBS is as I said earlier - insiders. The Board is the head of the leagues, their kids all make eagles and their friends get picked for A league. It is actually sickening as kids their hearts out the outcome set by who little jimmy likes. Further, lets be honest, this group is not exactly the best and brightest ...

Sports parent  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 5:45 PM

The park district's kids programming is well run, affordable and local. The AYSO volunteers also run their program to the benefit of all the kids. OPYBS unfortunately has a good old boys' culture. Kids whose dads aren't coaches or insiders sit on the bench more, are less likely to be picked for the All Star team, the Eagles etc. If you're kids are involved for a while, you see it plainly. The organization needs an overhaul, because those doing the judging are not impartial.

park district shouldn't run programs on their fields?  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 2:54 PM

why not? free enterprise and all

Shifting PD from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 9:28 PM

The park district is starting to run their own soccer programs in the spring. This competes directly with Ayso. That is why the comment was made. The park district shouldn't be running their own, duplicate programs, at the expense of effective, low cost AYSO options and also Opybs.

to shifting  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 3:56 PM

as a soccer representative at that public board meeting, that is not what is happening at all. please don't misrepresent what is happening. the pd is not "shifting to more lucrative adult sports" they just can give opyb all the want. I specifically remember hearing someone say that the pd shouldn't offer any of their own programs if opyb can use the field. ridiculous. it's called sharing


Posted: March 27th, 2014 2:40 PM

What is interesting is OPYBS keeps tryng to say OPYBS and AYSO in same breadth.. post below. AYSO is doing great as are others... it is OPYBS with the issue... which again goes to the point. if everyone else is fine, is the group or the single entity with problem. Asking for inclusion of smart diverse people on board not insiders who take care of their own ... so yes. asking for inclusion.

Shifting PD from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 1:58 PM

OP - what you are calling for is more inclusion. That is what OPYBS and AYSO accomplish. The PD moving towards travel teams and more lucrative adult sports shifts away from inclusion. OPYBS and AYSO are affordable options.


Posted: March 27th, 2014 1:38 PM

Again, purpose of post in not to engage in discussion re: OPYBS. My children are not in baseball, yes people to help out but there are no blacks, hispanics of asians on the board. Point is larger - hey get with the times, the field demand and 2014 - get out the past.

Sigh... from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 9:27 AM

Wow OP... "a board of insiders with zero racial diversity"?? FYI, OPYBS is made up of community minded people who enjoy supporting kid sports. It is a 100% volunteer led organization, so its board composition is a factor of who signs up to help out. I am not a coach or board member, but know for certain that that these people spend hours upon hours of their own time making it work. Sounds like you're just mad cuz your kid didn't make the All Stars team or something...

Tired of OP idiots  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 9:37 PM

Sorry "obvious," wrong on both counts. Just someone who is tired of OP idiots. More idiocy is occurring in the e-cigarette comments. The hubris of this community is amazing.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 8:45 PM

OPPD has leverage and as mentioned the center of gravity is shifting toward edge/adult/ayso soccer/lacrossse/park district programming. Frankly some of this is inflicted by hubris /attitude of OPYBS in which they EXPECT time and a board of insiders with zero racial diversity. Again, this spring was the wake up call - will they hit the snooze or change? time will tell.

Obvious that "idiot" is a opyb board member or coach   

Posted: March 26th, 2014 8:37 PM

Pretty sure pd doesn't need opyb $ as much as you think. I Think opyb needs pd fields more. Pretty sure hey could find someone to take your place. You sound like a bunch of kids who don't get what they want.

Tired of OP idiots  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:23 PM

To "to" and "545", you missed where article says OPYBS is largest spring affiliate-it brings most users and $ to PD. Only in OP is yanking your biggest customer's chain accepted. Do you two run DTOP? 545: Where is spring hockey? Not listed in my guide this year. Guess not having it shows how well run the program is. Mr. Borey, ball fields exist and have to be paid for. OPYBS pays user fees to PD to help pay for fields. Also, PD does not run OPYBS, OPYBS runs itself.

to: tired of OP idiots  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 3:30 PM

Sounds like you are the idiot here. Let the kids whose parents think that they are some fabulous ball player play somewhere else. The fields will still be used for recreation. And maybe if serve more of the community than the tiny percentage of the 50,000 residents the opyb serves. What makes opyb any better, deserve any more than ayso or edge or upcoming lacrosse or unstructured recreation.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 1:54 PM

This is not a discussion regarding the OPYBS board, organization etc - that would take a long time and many beers. This is a discussion of OPYBS relative to other options. Article discusses recent issue - and the fact is times are changing. OPYBS (and anyone else) can get revise strategy to adjust or struggle to get time. OPPD owes it to all taxe payers to maximize the public good for all - not just OPYBS (again dont get me started)

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 1:44 PM

tiredofOPidiots: you sound like one of those baseball know-it-all's who love to impugn the efforts of others, without contributing anything of value. OPYB is not "being treated like crap"...they are working as a partner w/PDOP based on their status. Yes, specific users pay fees on top of the baseline taxes paid by all. A fair & appropriate way charge for use. In case you didn't notice, hockey moved temporarily while RC is rebuilt. All programs plus more are returning this year to the new rink

Jim Borey  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 1:39 PM

@tired... Why so bitter? User fees help subsidize the incremental cost of running the programs and direct maintenance. Less kids, actually more money for the park district, get it? The capital cost is already paid with bonds which will be paid back with the current levy. Bottom line, more demand than supply now and fees don't pay the bills, they offset them.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 1:37 PM

Not wishing for anything - just stating possible reason for riff. Care less about OPYBS - but the reality is that many other resources wants/will take the time. So the position we are OPTBS/ we pay taxes/fees is irrevalent and likely hurts them in long run.

tired of OP idiots  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 1:20 PM

@OP, be careful what you wish for. Pony numbers are down due to kids leaving for full time travel programs. With this, expect more kids to leave OPYBS for programs elsewhere. With less kids comes less money coming into PD which means PD will have to make up the money somewhere. Plus, the PD sports programs my kids were in were generally glorified babysitting due to poor coaching by HS kids.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 11:25 AM

Everyone was so excited about the turf at ridgeland but the smart money knew that mens /co ed soccer pays way more than obys and it would be attractive option. Further AYSO is OP spring is growning well and other villages/programs are looking for space. This all means that OPYBS long term strategy should be ASK driven and not TELL. Cause they learned this spring, many other would take the space ....


Posted: March 26th, 2014 11:21 AM

there other factors at work here. OPD has invested in fields at high cost and realize offering own programming is more profitable and more control and less hassle. The other issue is population growth and scarcity of land. More people, smae amount of land means fighting for resources... again, OPYBS needs to realize they are no longer the center of gravity and tone/tnor of discussion needs to change..

tired of OP idiots  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 11:10 AM

Tiredinoakpark is an idiot. The diamonds are meant for base- and softball. Go walk elsewhere. Sounds like challenging the PD board next election is needed. If OPYBS pays a fee for usage of the fields parents are paying twice for use of ball fields (taxes and OPYBS fee) and we still get treated like crap by our PD. Meanwhile the PD messed up the hockey program so much that board members go play elsewhere in addition to the throng of kids paying over $3G to play in Chicago/Addison/Bensenville.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:52 AM

@ muntz, the actual aggregate numbers show -5.3% growth in baseball across all levels (some could be growing but average is down) Lacrosse up 8% and Soccer up 4%. Hoops is flat. Makes sense, baseball is a solid middle class sport - and middle class has eroded ....along with travel growth, etc.... again broader point is in house programs need to eveolve with times vs. living in past.

Tyrus Cobb  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:51 AM

Oak Park baseball has historically squatted on more hours than needed to account for rain outs. Even at 95%, the new Ridgeland turf will allow more game and practice hours than 100% of previous years. What we need is more free hours for the general public to have a pick up game without coaches and parental interference.

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:46 AM

The PACT program is working precisely as designed. The PDOP and it's affiliates now have accurate field and facility use data to reference now in order to make allocation decisions. The fact that valued partners such as OPYB/YS are negotiating for use is a good thing, in that all are working from the same data points. Usage and elements of PACT can be tweaked as the market shifts. Muntz, can't agree with you on the tennis point. The courts do get used quite a bit, & it's an area where OP has an appropriate amount of courts for our population, & the amount of space allocated for tennis isn't as great as you'd think.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:32 AM

@OP-I agree, but the #'s show that youth participation in baseball exceeds soccer up until the age of 13 (Lacrosse isn't even on the radar-but I am a fan). What sport is extremely under-served in our community in BASKETBALL. If we truly wanted a quick and positive impact to our parks system/youth sports balance, we would convert the extremely underutilized tennis courts and convert some to b-ball courts.Or field hockey.Or putting greens.Instead, our parks are littered empty blue concrete squares


Posted: March 26th, 2014 9:44 AM

The reality is soccer and lacrosse are growing and baseball is shrinking (across US). Urbanization, poor governance from MLB, browning of America (less blacks and hispanics represented baseball on percentage basis). OPYBS must adjust to new world order - and adjust expecations and strategy.


Posted: March 26th, 2014 7:52 AM

Not to point out the obvious, but the parks are for everyone, not just little league.

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