The Temple Terrace PONY League plays at the Temple Terrace Youth Sports Complex. Jenifer Ruiz photo
TEMPLE TERRACE, FL (WFLA) -
Some parents of children who play in the Temple Terrace PONY Baseball League are not happy that the city is considering a contract that will force their kids to play elsewhere.
They plan to show up in force at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, where council members are scheduled to discuss a contract that would allow the non-profit organization "Sports 2 Serve" to operate a travel baseball league at the Temple Terrace Youth Sports Complex. The sports park is located on U.S. 301, just north of Temple Terrace Highway.
"This is the only PONY in the area," said parent Jenifer Ruiz, whose 7-year-old son Joseph plays second base on his team.
"He loves baseball. Ever since he was four, we've gone there," she said. "I want to see the park stay open."
"If they take PONY away my son will not be able to play unless I drive across town to another PONY field. PONY baseball does not have boundaries like Little League baseball and in my opinion has offered better instruction to my son," said mother Marci Lewis.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District leases the property to the City of Temple Terrace, who decides what will be done with the property, according to PONY League Vice President Michelle Edelman.
She says that the PONY League has been at the sports complex since the mid-1990s and it fills a specific need for kids in the area.
Children who live outside of Little League zones are not allowed to play on Temple Terrace Little League teams, but they can play on the PONY League. Edelman says 95 percent of the kids who play in the PONY League live are not Temple Terrace residents. Kids also do not have to try out to play on a PONY League team.
The league is also a budget-friendly option for parents. Edelman estimated that 25 to 30 percent of the kids in the league receive scholarships.
So, why would the city make a change? Edelman thinks it's all about money.
The non-profit that wants to use the park for a year-round travel baseball league and tournaments is offering to pay $1,500 per month toward the city's utility expenses, according to a proposal it filed with the city. That adds up to $18,000 a year. Edelman says the PONY League pays an estimated $9,500 to the city per year. The amount can go up, if more kids sign up to play.
Edelman, who volunteers her time to help run the PONY League, thinks the city has its priorities wrong, money should not be number the top priority.
"It's about children, not the money," she said.
Other parents agree. Robin Lindsey's kids have played PONY League baseball at the sports complex for the last eight years.
"They say they will give the park to whoever has more money, a bidding war. Our kids will never understand this. We love our park, we have dedicated hundreds of hours to this park and more importantly, to our kids who call this park home," said Lindsey.
"These are our children. If they do not have an organized sport to play and a financial strain is put on the parents, what will the future hold for all of our children? This is a great park, my children have played at many others but this is the park that made memories that will last a lifetime. Happy, Healthy children make for a happy community with successful families," said parent Marsha Bello.
But, city officials say not as many kids are signing up for PONY League. James Chambers, who is Temple Terrace's Leisure Services Director, says participation in the PONY League has gone down over the years. He says at the height of the PONY League's popularity, about 250 kids played in the league, now 88 kids play in the league.
Temple Terrace Parks and Recreation receives money for each child that becomes a rec member or plays in a league. Revenue has gone down because fewer kids have signed up to play, while the costs to maintain the facility have remained the same over the last five years with the exception of electricity, which has increased a small amount, according to Chambers.
Chambers told WFLA.com that he does not know what decision city council members will make during Tuesday night's meeting. Temple Terrace Public Information Officer Michael Dunn said city leaders will have to weigh the costs.
"The city wants to accommodate as many kids as we can," said Dunn.
The Temple Terrace City Council will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall which is located at 11250 North St.