By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
At least 150 people attended a forum regarding the future of youth baseball and softball in Monticello on Wednesday, Sept. 25 in the City Council Chambers.
At issue, primarily, is whether the city should stick with the current grade format of having grades 4-6 play in Little League, or to take fourth graders out of Little League and have them join with third-graders.
Doing the latter would likely require travel to neighboring towns in order to have enough teams for a league, a topic that came up repeatedly Wednesday. But it would also eliminate having fourth-graders play against sixth-graders throughout the season.
New topics that surfaced at the meeting included the concept of conducting clinics to assist coaches, and emphasis on upgrading the softball programs.
City administrator Doug Herman led off the meeting, which took about 90 minutes, by explaining the situation and offering a slide show to demonstrate what other towns do with their summer youth sports.
By having grades 4-6 play together, Herman said, “We are unique in what we are currently doing.”
Parks and recreation director Tami Bartram, an opponent of changing the current format, reiterated her concerns about families having the time or being able to afford to travel to games.
Bud Johnson, who is in favor of the format change, spoke next, advancing his arguments that playing in other towns, providing uniforms for players and upgrading the fields would be in the kids’ best interests.
“Shouldn’t we raise the bar?” Johnson said.
The floor was then opened to the public, and one-by-one, people came to the podium to offer their views.
Some said traveling to play teams from other towns is a positive step.
“My daughter went through the softball program,” Kendi Bohlken said. “Traveling was the best thing we ever did. She loved it. She was excited to go every week.
“It also brings those people into Monticello. They’re going to stop and spend money in our town.”
Kraig Hansen, who moved to Monticello from Wyoming about a year ago, agreed.
“The traveling is a lot of fun,” Hansen said. “It really gives the kids something to look forward to. That’s the fun of the game; seeing and meeting other kids in other towns.
“There are coaches and parents who will haul kids to the ball game, and if a parent gets off (work) a little late, they can show up and see the last four or five innings.”
“If my children had been playing in leagues out of town, I would have missed a lot of games,” Angie Beitz said. “We’re talking about changing this league and how much support the kids have, but when parents can’t go to watch them, I’m not sure they’re going to feel they’re very supported.”
Buffy Clark came down on that side as well.
“Even though $20 (a suggested fee to play) doesn’t seem like a lot, for some families it is a lot,” Clark said. “(There is) the extra expense of traveling out of town for gas, and then feeding your kids supper on the way home, or just rearranging what’s already a tight schedule for some families is a big deal.
“I just don’t think the solution is to split and travel. I think it is going to eliminate a lot of kids (for whom) this might be their only chance to play.”
Some brought up the idea of providing training for coaches. One of those was Rick Westhoff, who offered to conduct an annual coaching clinic.
“Be glad to do it,” Westhoff said. “One of the major issues we have, is that some of us people who have coached it played it and been around it all our lives, need to get involved in coaching the coaches.
“Let’s (contact) the coaches and have a clinic, so they can go to practice with some confidence. Let’s help the coaches, because it’s tough. I really think that’s a major, major need here.”
Others wanted to make sure the softball program was getting the same emphasis provided to youth baseball.
“I do think we could beef up the benchmarks that we have,” Carrie Manternach said. “I know numbers may be an issue, but I do think one thing we can do is strengthen our softball programs for the girls.”
The Monticello Park Board and the Monticello City Council hope to further discuss the issue in the coming months. Herman said the goal is to have a decision on the 2014 season format by Dec. 1.