Debate surrounds Little League tournament parking fees
July 10, 2012 at 2:10 a.m.
The bulging parking lots at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex attracted parents and supporters from across the Crossroads for the better part of a week.
So many spectators meant more opportunities to ask for the $3 parking fee. Crowds might have dimmed as teams were eliminated, but the whispers about why vehicles were asked to pay to park never subsided.
"I thought everything in Little League was free," said Mission Valley resident Duane Payne, whose son Cole played for the Victoria Southwest 11-12 year-old All-Stars. "The umpires volunteer their time. I thought it was free for the public, free for parents and spectators to watch."
Payne knows parents must pay for their children to participate. He has three enrolled. Payne's point was that he didn't think people should have been required to pay for parking.
In eight days of tournament games, across various age groups, $9,965 was raised through parking fees.
Monies collected from the fees were recycled into the Little Leagues, since the hosts could not earn revenue from concessions, said Jeff Vedrenne, district administrator for Texas East District 27.
In 2011 Vedrenne asked the city of Victoria whether District 27 could charge for parking during the tournament games at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex. After the earlier success, Vedrenne approached the city again this year. This was the first year District 27 asked everyone to pay a parking fee this year.
"It goes to offset some of these things. In the case of Karnes City, they operated in a negative budget. Had they hosted the tournament, they could have made $2,000 or $3,000 and offset the negative balance," Vedrenne said.
"In the case of Northwest Victoria, where they have a surplus, then they could purchase new equipment or new uniforms or give more to the teams that travel."
It was not the fee that irked a quartet of grandmothers watching Victoria Northeast clinch the 11-12 year-old district championship Monday night. Judy Carroll, Kay Oliver, Barbary Schmidt and Gloria Seiler were initially unaware of the fee, or where the money was going.
Seiler said it would have been nice to have been told about the fee before coming to the park. Schmidt, meanwhile, compared the fee to what spectators would pay to watch a football game at Memorial Stadium.
"I don't think it's fair. If you have a lot of people coming in, paying concessions, then you're going to force them to park," Seiler said. "You're going to have them (park) on Ben Wilson."
Had Seiler known about the fee, she would not have had an issue with it. She suggested the district pass a collection plate to offset the parking revenue, rather than require people to pay to park. Doing so, she said, would allow people to give what they could.
Carroll was busy watching her grandson, Avery Bruns, try to beat out an infield single Monday night to say too much on the issue. But, she did say "it didn't bother me at all. I just assume it goes to good causes."
Of the $9,965 raised, $4,786 went to the four Victoria Little League zones, since they hosted the tournament. An additional $4,434 was for expenses ranging from ice and water for the players, banners to the district winners, pins for every player, to a new air conditioner at Lowe Field. The final $475 went back to the district.
Vedrenne said the Victoria-based Little Leagues received money based upon volunteer numbers, and the amount of time donated to running the tournament.
In 2011, Victoria hosted three tournaments at the district level. Vedrenne said there were five or six volunteers from the public. This year, Victoria hosted 10 tournaments, across all age levels, and there were nearly 30 volunteers from the public.
Southeast Victoria Little League received $32 dollars because that league sent one volunteer for one night. Meanwhile, Southwest Victoria and Northwest Victoria combined forces throughout the eight days of games, and split more than $4,300 from the district.
Once the last District 27 team is eliminated from All-Star play, Vedrenne and the league presidents will have a meeting to discuss whether to bring the parking fee back for the 2013 All-Star tournament - as well as other issues.
"I can't guarantee that it's going to happen again," Vedrenne said of the parking fee. "My gut feeling is that it will happen. I just think we will do a better job of getting the word out. . If we can disseminate information a little better about why we are charging and what it's going for, that will resolve most of the complaints we got."
Many youth sports organizations compliment their revenue streams through concession sales. However, that is not possible at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex because in February 2009 the City of Victoria contracted the concessions to a private vendor.
Doug Cochran, director of the city's Parks and Recreation department, said the city manager wanted staff to look into the concession stands because the city was operating the concessions during the adult kickball and softball games, but not youth sports, at the time.
Cochran said his staff was instructed to look into the feasibility of combining the operation of those concession stands, whether it was done by the city or a vendor.
The city's original three-year contract with Julie Rivera, owner of Julie's Grill and Snacks, expired in January. The two parties have since agreed to have the contract renew on an annual basis before the first contract expired.
According to city documents Rivera's contract requires her to operate the concessions "at least 30 minutes prior to any games and when games are being played during tournaments and during weeknight league play."
The grandmotherly quartet, and Payne were initially concerned the city might earn money off the parking fee. Vedrenne and Cochran, in separate conversations, stated the parking monies were recycled back into Little League.
Once Payne was told the money was being funneled back into Little League, by an Advocate reporter, he didn't have an issue with the arrangement. He compared the parking fee to paying for a toll when traveling to Houston, which is family does many weekends.
"This is a fund raiser for Little League," Cochran said. "There was a request because they don't have the concessions like some other youth sports."