The city of Gillette wants to take over scheduling of youth sporting events at the Energy Capital Sports Complex and the Little League fields at Dalbey Park.
It’s a move that has drawn criticism from some and support from others.
In mid-August, City Administrator Pat Davidson wrote a letter to Gillette Little League President Mike Leisy and Gillette Girls Fast Pitch Association President Jim West stating the city will not renew leases with the organizations at either the Energy Capital Sports Complex or Dalbey Memorial Park. Instead, the city will manage the fields, including scheduling games and events.
The city will request teams have their tournament, game and practice schedules submitted by Jan. 31 to give staff a chance to make plans and reservations. The city will prioritize tournaments over all activities, followed by high school girls softball (scheduled to begin in 2021), conference and non-conference games and practices.
Gillette Little League’s lease expired Sept. 1 while the Fast Pitch Association’s will end Nov. 1, City Attorney Tony Reyes said.
Leisy wants to know what the organization, which averages about 800 participants ages 4-12, did wrong to prompt the city to take over fields the Little League group has leased and managed for decades.
“As far as we know we thought we were doing a great job after controlling the schedule for 50 years and never having any conflicts with any other organization,” he said. “It feels like a slap in the face with the partnership we have with them.
“We’ve always done everything (the city) asked. We asked them (for) permission to build anything new. It doesn’t make any sense to us as to why they would do so,” he said.
West said the decision was a little shocking, but after talking to city officials and the softball board, he believes the city is just trying to give everyone public access to the fields.
The reason people are reacting passionately is because the letter the city sent to both organizations were identical and “pretty generic,” West said.
Some people felt like their lease was going to be taken away to accommodate fast-pitch softball, which is “far from the absolute truth,” he said.
The future of Little League
The leases pertain directly to the Gillette Little League and Gillette Girls Fast Pitch Association, but numerous youth sports organizations will be affected by the change.
Some residents worry that the city’s decision to take over scheduling for youth leagues could mean the end of Little League, but that’s not the case, city officials said.
“Little League is not going away,” Gillette City Councilman Shay Lundvall said.
At no point has anyone from the city stated that Little League is going to be disregarded and put off to the side, he said.
“This decision did not come easily,” Davidson’s letter states. “However, based on the demand for use of the fields, the difficulties between clubs and the evolution of these sports within the community, the overall best approach is to manage the fields internally and not on a lease basis.
“This is done with the sole intent of maximizing youth participation in these activities and maximizing the use of these public assets,” Davidson wrote.
There have been discussions as to how the city manages its assets, such as figuring out what the appropriate way should be to manage the fields and facilitate more youth participation across the city, Davidson said.
The two groups would no longer have to pay for leases and utilities, he said. Gillette Little League paid $4,500 a year while Fast Pitch chipped in with $5,200 a year.
“The first thing that has to be kept in mind is that the lease expired. The city didn’t take it away,” Davidson said.
Dalbey Park is a taxpayer-funded facility and “it starts to get difficult when you have a taxpayer-funded facility that is being leased and controlled by one entity,” he said. “That is the spirit in which we’re looking at.”
That explanation isn’t sitting well with the Little League, however.
“My big thing is, we tried to ask for a meeting to try and clear the air,” Leisy said. “I was even going to apologize for any wrongdoing any ex-presidents did or any current officeholders has ever done to the city and to try and start anew.”
Trying to accommodate all
Councilman Bruce Brown said the decision to take over scheduling is a “win for everybody” and was “not meant to be punitive.”
“It’s just a difference in philosophy and everyone gets a fair shot at scheduling their games,” he said.
The City Council has to continue to take an 80,000-foot view of the city and move it in a positive way that it hopes will benefit the majority of the organizations, Lundvall said.
“You’re never going to appease everyone 100% and by no means are we as a city looking at trying to dictate anything,” he said. “I really struggle with that one. I truly don’t think that we’re trying to overreach.
“We’re not going to be a programming organization or get into that business of programming. Little League is not going away. Nothing is going to be different in terms of Little League.”
The city will address its decision not to renew the field leases at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“Come and hear what’s really going on,” Lundvall said. “I think there’s been a narrative out there that’s been misrepresented.”
Leisy wants answers.
“There’s no reason to end a good relationship,” he said.
Through all the arguments, people have lost track of what this is all about, Brown said: the kids.