By Kathi Bliss
At a time of year when parents would normally begin asking, “When does Little League registration start,” this year, parents are asking, “Will there be Little League in Lockhart?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is unclear, and is one of many questions that the City of Lockhart will have to address on Tuesday, Jan. 17, before spring ball can begin.
The questions arose late last year, when what was then the Lockhart Little League board sought to make changes within the organization, and changes in the way youth baseball and softball are played in Lockhart.
“[We] told City Manager Vance Rodgers in October 2011 that the board was considering a change in the way the program was being done,” said Jimmy Welvaert, who was then the president of Lockhart Little League, and who is now the vice president of the Lockhart Youth Softball and Baseball Association (LYSBA). “We said that we were considering a change in the name, and a change to PONY (Protecting Our Nation’s Youth) rules.”
Welvaert maintains Rodgers advised him that if a change was approved by the organizations members, the minutes of the meeting would have to be forwarded, along with a new proposal for use of the Lockhart Youth Sports Complex on Carver Street. Rodgers said he never received that information.
“We never received anything that said that Lockhart Little League had been ‘dissolved,’” Rodgers said on Tuesday. “[The city] found out about it when they notified Little League District 31 that they would no longer be under the charter.”
At that time, Rodgers said, the city instituted a lockdown of the Lockhart Youth Sports Complex, securing the assets and restricting use of the baseball and softball fields and facilities to only a small number of “select” organizations who had prior agreements with the city for use of the fields.
The lockdown, he said, was triggered by the fact that the contract for use of the fields was between the City of Lockhart and Lockhart Little League, an organization which some said had been dissolved.
Little League District 31, however, took a different stance.
“It’s our position that Little League is still an active organization in Lockhart,” said Little League District 31 Administrator Joe Patterson, citing a conflict of interest that placed the former board members in violation of Little League rules when they voted to change to a PONY program. “It’s clear in the manual that [someone serving on a Little League board] can’t serve on other boards.”
Patterson also said he didn’t understand why the change happened so suddenly, and that he had been unaware that the previously-existing board had issues with Little League.
“I’ve heard no real complaints from Lockhart in the last several years,” he said. “If I have a league that has issues, I ask them to come to me and allow me to try to work it out.”
The previous board, he said, didn’t.
Welvaert, as well, cited no outright issues, but said it was simply time for a change within the community.
“We have board meetings every month, and annual meetings, and it’s the same eight people there,” he said. “People want to voice their opinion, but they don’t want to step up and make things happen, and we feel like that’s where we are now. The only way changes are going to happen is if they just happen. We’re trying to jumpstart this program and we are hoping that we can spark some interest.”
Welvaert cited a change to PONY as something the LYSBA board believes will encourage growth in the program and be better for the area’s youth.
“All the teams we try to inter-league with are going to PONY,” Welvaert said. “San Marcos, Kyle, Hays… they’re all PONY league. I think that Lockhart is very competitive in baseball and softball, and the only inter-league opportunities we had with Little League were Luling, Bastrop, out that way. We didn’t want to play those teams, we want to play the more competitive teams.”
The Little League District 31 website reflects nine Little League programs in the “East Zone,” including Lockhart, and another eight in the “West Zone.” It does not, however, reflect any programs in San Marcos, Buda or Kyle.
“The community is going to see changes in the people that are brought in for tournaments, and it’s going to open up opportunities for the board, and to open up the season,” Welvaert said.
The formation of the LYSBA league and board does not impact the presence of Little League in Lockhart, though.
“A ten-member board is in place, and they have to get ready for the season,” he said. While some issues are still pending, he said, the board is preparing for registration and later, team assignments and tournament schedules.
One issue that remains on the table is the use of the Lockhart Youth Sports Complex, an issue that Rodgers said the city council is slated to decide on Tuesday.
“There is nothing to indicate that the contract with Little League is void,” Rodgers said. “They have a board in place and the organization remains, and the contract is with Lockhart Little League. Therefore, what I’m going to present to council is a recommendation that we move forward with the existing agreement.”
That agreement, however, is being questioned by the LYSBA board, which maintains Lockhart Little League is a null organization, therefore leaving an agreement for use of the fields open for discussion.
Ultimately, Rodgers said, he hopes that the organizations can reach an understanding and agreement about using and maintaining the fields, in an effort to serve the community’s children, regardless of which league they belong to.
“There are exceptions and arrangements that could be made, if both groups agree, particularly with use of the senior field,” he said. “Our hope is that they can reach an agreement.”
Both organizations feel that the presence of 40-50 parents during a Lockhart Little League general meeting last week is an indication of local interest in Little League participation. To Patterson, the turnout suggests that Little League is still alive and well in Lockhart. Welvaert, however, took a different stance.
“I was hoping to see that room just overflowing with people,” he said. “But several of them were like me and were just there to find out what was going on. That, to me, is not a big outcry from the city that they want Little League.”
Either way, he said, it should be for the parents to decide. As an active member of the Little League and then the LYSBA board, he said parental involvement has been lacking, a situation the group had hoped to change by re-vamping the organization.
Regardless of his hopes for the future of the league, however, he said he does have regrets about the way things turned out.
“If I’d known that I’d be opening Pandora’s box, I’m sure that [we wouldn’t] have done anything,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to be that big of a deal – just a change in the way we play baseball.”
The Lockhart City Council will discuss the issue of the usage agreement for the Lockhart Youth Sports Complex during their regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, with a worksession beginning at 6:30 p.m. and the regular session beginning at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall, and is open to the public and broadcast on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.