Parks And Rec Denies New Thunder Team
The Parks & Recreation Commission declined to take up a motion to approve a U10 recreational team this fall for the Newtown Thunder softball program.
James Twitchell and Michael Bonacci of Newtown Thunder came to the commission in a Thursday, August 26, special meeting, seeking a waiver for the creation of a U10 team for the girls who did not qualify for the travel team, as well as a waiver to the 80/20% threshold requirement of Newtown residents for the team. If the request had been fulfilled, the Thunder would have had a total of seven teams and three fields. Bonacci said the organization has a full team of girls “signed up and ready to go.”
Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson stated that the group was originally only approved for one U11 team, in July of 2015, due to its “unique purpose.” The minutes of the July 2015 Parks & Rec Commission meeting state that the group was formed when a travel team with Newtown Babe Ruth U11 departed the league, so they could stay together as a team, which is “not part of the Babe Ruth policy.”
In the 2015 minutes, Twitchell explained that the team was made up entirely of Newtown players. The original plan was to not utilize Newtown fields; however, the fields they were using in the spring were under dispute, “which left [the team] in limbo.” A waiver for field use was approved by the commission.
Samuelson said that there has been much discussion over the years about whether the group is a rec team or a travel team as the organization has grown. He said at this point, both Newtown Thunder and Babe Ruth Softball are trying to field rec teams, but neither are unique in that use, and there have been no further waivers since the one in 2015.
Samuelson told The Newtown Bee on Tuesday, August 31, that the main problem is that the Thunder is “operating a lot more teams than they were initially authorized for” and that they “started a recreation program without permission from the commission.” He also said that the league is currently paying a $30 surcharge as a nonprofit group operating with more than 80% Newtown residents, but that the new team currently doesn’t meet the 80% threshold.
Groups that are for-profit or that do not meet the 80% threshold are required to pay for the fields on an hourly basis. The reason the town does it this way is because in youth sports, many independent teams form and kids often want to stay with their friends, even if a team is based out of town.
Out Of Town Premium
One way the department can encourage parents to keep their children in town is to make it more cost effective by charging more for out-of-town children.
“We use the fees to pay to maintain the turf fields,” said Samuelson. “We can’t allow one organization to play for free.”
Samuelson expressed concerns that other organizations would want similar deals if the Thunder were allowed to continue operating as it does.
Commission member Warren Spencer stated he “understands the situation,” but expressed that he was previously unaware that the Thunder has more than one team. He said the team had morphed into something it was not approved for and asked if they could rejoin Babe Ruth Softball.
Bonacci said that if one group or the other were to be dismantled, it would be more likely that the displaced girls would go out of town to play rather than join the other league. Commission member Rance Thompson expressed concern that other teams may come to the commission seeking similar waivers and will expect it, since one was granted to the Thunder. Samuelson said that if there were a definitive date for the Thunder to return to a full travel team then it could be avoided.
Commission Chair Clinton DePaolo entertained a motion to waive the 80% threshold for Newtown residents for both the Thunder and Babe Ruth Softball, but no one made that motion. Commissioner Aaron Britton made a motion to extend the waiver for Thunder to have an additional U10 team until October 31, 2021, but no one seconded the motion. After further deliberation, both requests were denied.
Samuelson said that Newtown isn’t large enough to support multiple youth organizations, as there aren’t enough eligible kids to play. On Wednesday morning, September 1, Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold informed the commission and The Bee that she and Samuelson met two separate times each with Twitchell and Pat McCleary from Babe Ruth Softball.
“They both are willing to work on a plan for an inclusive group that fits the needs of both organizations under one set of bylaws,” said Mangold.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.