PAOLA — New life is being breathed into Paola Youth Sports, and local community leaders are now turning to the city for help in rehabilitating the ballfields at Wallace Park.
Justin Smail, Scott Golubski and Jace Kirk of Paola Youth Sports made a presentation during a Paola City Council work session Tuesday, June 4.
Now that the city has taken ownership of the ballfields at Wallace Park, Smail asked that a portion of the city’s half-cent sales tax be designated for needed improvements and maintenance of the facilities.
Smail said a concerning trend has formed in recent years in which Paola and the surrounding area are losing many of their talented youths to roster teams in the metro area. The biggest issues are the quality of coaching, uniforms, equipment and fields, he said.
About a year and a half ago, Smail said a group led by himself, Golubski, Kirk and others came together to improve the local situation. One of the first steps was bringing softball and baseball both under the Paola Youth Sports umbrella with the same leadership.
They’ve also cut the participation fee, which used to be close to $100, in half.
To improve the coaching situation, Smail said they started introducing “league practices” for all boys and girls teams 10-U and under. During the league practices, coaches at the high school level help instruct both players and coaches how to learn the fundamentals.
“We’re trying to give the kids everything they need in-house,” Smail said.
There also have been other changes, such as reinstituting all-star programs, creating local roster teams and reducing team sizes for tee-ball for better instruction.
The initial results have been positive, Smail said, with participation jumping from 333 in 2018 to 441 in 2019, resulting in an additional nine combined teams.
“It’s been really good to this point,” Smail said.
The quality of the fields, though, remains the biggest issue, as well as the frequent flooding of many of the playing surfaces.
Smail proposed a solution, and he said Paola Youth Sports has already created a two-phased plan to make improvements to the ballfields.
The plan involves reducing the size of Russell Field and building two other fields in the current left field and center field area of Russell Field. Phase one includes building a tee-ball-size field in left field, and phase two includes building a 10-and-under-size field in center field.
Those two fields will replace existing fields near Rock Stadium that are in poor shape and frequently flood.
“With the extra rain we’ve had, they’re in the worst shape they’ve ever been,” Golubski said.
Smail said the two new fields should be in areas that do not flood.
Other planned improvements include fixing the concession stand and restrooms near Russell Field, adding a parking lot in the area that typically floods beyond right field of Russell Field, and doing some necessary drainage work along the right field line of Russell Field.
Smail said the community has been great about donating to Paola Youth Sports, but city funds are needed in order to make the facility improvements.
No official decision was made, but council members said if the city’s half-cent sales tax is renewed by voters in November for park improvements, the ballfields could get a portion of that revenue.