WEST ROCKHILL — The pitch is in.
Pennridge Little League and Pennridge High School's baseball team would like to share the use of and the costs at the township's James Memorial Park ballfield that is used by the Little League's senior team, West Rockhill Township Park & Recreation Committee Chair David Reiss said at the Feb. 17 West Rockhill Township Board of Supervisors meeting.
The Little League had to postpone its season last year and, although it was a successful season, the number of participants and amount of money coming in were both down, said Reiss, who was president of the Little League for six years and is a Pennridge School Board member. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Little League was hit last year with flood damage at fields in Perkasie and Sellersville, he said.
"It helps the non-profit Pennridge Little League to kind of work together hand in hand and save some expenses," Reiss said.
The high school season is for eight games between March and May, he said.
Township officials should have been told about the proposal sooner and been involved in the discussions, supervisors board member Jim Miller said. "I don't think it was fair. I think the township found out at the last minute. We've had no time to really look at this," Miller said.
He also noted a tournament held at the field last year.
"I read about that in the newspaper. No one told us you were doing that, so it really irks me that there's all these events going on that we're not aware of," he said, "and they do cause problems."
The problems include other people having rented the park at the same time that the ball games, which had not been on the park schedule, are happening, he said.
"If you have two games in the same day, the parking lot is absolutely filled with cars," Miller said.
"I think it's great that there's a lot of people at the park, but the residents can't get in there," he said. "You're actually taking the park away from the residents when every parking lot spot in the place is filled."
Board Chair David Collingwood said he also has concerns about the parking and that expanded use of the ballfield may interfere with township residents using the park.
"I think the whole thing has the potential to really get out of control," Collingwood said, "and, again, I think the park is for the citizens and the public first."
Board member Jay Keyser said he coached Little League and was instrumental in the James Memorial Park field being built.
"I embrace baseball," he said, but said he also has some of the same concerns as Miller and Collingwood.
"You're asking for something that should have been looked at, and I think should have been brought to the Park & Rec Committee months ago, if not a year ago, if this was wanted to happen," Keyser said.
Instead, it came to the township's Park & Recreation Committee just the previous week, where it was discussed for more than an hour and a half, he said.
Reiss said the high school would generally use the field between 3 and 5:30 p.m., at which time there aren't a lot of other people using the park. Parking spaces could be left open for other park users, he said.
"I'm sure all the issues could be worked out," Reiss said.
The details could be worked out later, he said.
"The kids, we just want them to play," Reiss said. "We want them to use the field if I'm not mistaken. I mean that's why we built the park."
The board members said emailed information about the proposal said there was a "casual agreement" for the shared use of the field.
"I'm not quite sure what that means or who agreed to this casual agreement from the township side," Collingwood said.
The three township supervisors and Manager Greg Lippincott each said they had not been involved.
Keyser said allowing the high school team to use the field would mean that there would first have to be a change made in the original agreement between the municipality and the Little League.
"The quid pro quo for the Little League field being in the township park was that the Little League would construct the field and then it would be available for use by township residents when the Little League wasn't using it," said Mary Eberle, the township's solicitor.
"That was the original agreement," she said. "That's the agreement that's in place now."
Following the discussion, the board tabled the matter. Collingwood said the proposal should go back to the Park & Recreation Committee for further review, then be returned to the supervisors for a decision.
In public comment at the conclusion of the virtual meeting, held under pandemic guidelines, the board received emails in support of the proposed field sharing from Pennridge School District Director of Operations Kelly Harper, Pennridge Athletic Director Dave Babb and Craig Whitten, the high school baseball coach.
"On behalf of the players, coaches, and parents we are thrilled at the opportunity to call James Memorial Park our home field," Whitten wrote in the email.
The high school team was able to use the field for summer practice and two tournament games and had fall practice and a few inter-squad games there, he said.
The benefits for the high school team playing there are "countless," he said. "The area is bigger, the cage is nicer, and the environment is friendlier than our previous location. Parents were excited in attending some of our scheduled twilight games instead of the typical 3:30-3:45 start time because they are now able to watch their sons play at 6:15 p.m."
West Rockhill resident Matt Croyle said he is a a Pennridge Little League board member who has a son on the high school baseball team.
"The high school will assist with the upkeep of the field and would always be willing to support in payments and field improvements," he said. "If this board has concerns, my suggestion would be to allow these kids to have the field this spring and continue conversation after the season."
Pennridge Little League President Joe Santora said sharing the costs and the work at the field would leave it in better condition.
"I would really like to work closely with the board of supervisors to arrive at an arrangement that would give the players of Pennridge Little League and from the high school the ability to call James Memorial Park their home while giving residents of West Rockhill Township the ability to enjoy all the amenities of the park in a safe way," he said.