City moves to expand Park & Rec

Published 3:43 pm Thursday, January 24, 2019

Plan to offer summer sports starting next year

By Jeremy Weldon

City officials agreed this week to begin the process of forming a city-wide USSSA sports program that will eventually include baseball, softball, soccer, and basketball. It’s the move to create summer baseball and softball leagues that has some aldermen worried about backlash from supporters of the privately operated J.P. Hudson program.

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USSSA stands for United States Specialty Sports Association and is the predominant baseball and softball program in the nation. Unlike most all other cities, Batesville children have played summer ball at J.P. Hudson Park on fields that are owned by the private organization. Other children have played at Patton Lane Park in a loosely-organized league that receives a small amount of city funding.

The idea to pursue USSSA status and leagues was proposed to the city board Tuesday at a regular meeting by Public Works director David Karr, who acknowledged that the move would be unpopular with some citizens. Others, he said, would be happy to have the city run the ball programs, especially when average cost per child is $50. J.P. Hudson charges $110 for the first child registered and $75 for a second.

“We are not trying to compete with J.P. Hudson, we just want to offer another program,” Karr said. “I played J.P., my son played J.P. and I’ve been on their board and coached there. I have nothing but respect for what they do, but the city has gotten big enough that we need a program that the high school coaches can come and help with and we can see every child get that opportunity.”

“Dizzy Dean to me is a dying league, especially in North Mississippi,” Karr said, referring to the organization that sanctions the leagues at J.P. Hudson Park. Dizzy Dean baseball and softball is popular in parts of the Southeast and Batesville has hosted many Dizzy Dean state tournaments over the years. The organization’s World Series is held at Snowden Park in Southaven each year, and many Batesville players have participated in those events.

USSSA events, however, are much larger and the availability of teams and tournaments is greater. Karr said USSSA’s focus on improving skills for all participant was also part of his decision to recommend the city become a partner with the national organization.

“We are losing a lot of athletes from the African-American community because they are taught football and basketball and they need the opportunity to learn the game of baseball,” Karr said. “I have seen athletes that could have been phenominal players but no opportunity.”

J.P. Hudson teams over the past several years have included an increasingly greater number of minority children, but the leagues are mostly made up of white children. Most minority children who play summer ball participate in either the Patton Lane program or at the Boys and Girls Club.

Karr said some people he has discussed the matter have expressed interest in seeing the city take over the J.P. Hudson Park and operate leagues both there and at the city-owned Trussell Park. “If we did that we could probably get some federal funds that aren’t available to J.P. Hudson.” Major League Baseball has pumped thousands of dollars into some areas through its RBI (Returning Baseball to Inner-Cities) program, and similar grants and park improvement money is available for organized leagues, Karr said.

Aldermen agreed the move was a good one for the city, but were hesitant to take on baseball and summer leagues for the upcoming season.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Alderman Teddy Morrow, “but I’d rather see us add a field or two at Trussell and grow our facility before we start signing up players.”

Morrow, who has a long association with J.P. Hudson Park, also said he hopes the city soon has the opportunity to have open discussions with J.P. board members and begin the move that would fold the private program into the Parks and Recreation Dept.

“I’m fine with doing this, but I think we need to give them a little bit longer before we start,” Morrow said.

“You can tell them it’s coming,” he said to Karr. “And maybe when they see us doing some things to get ready they will want to talk about it.”