The first youth baseball season under Director Rigel Page wasn’t quite what he envisioned it would be, but he said parents being appreciative of the program meant a lot to him.
“People were superpatient,” Page said.
He said he didn’t know if Searcy was going to have a season because of COVID-19, but the Searcy Recreational Sports League, the name the program took in its first year under city control, ended up with 450 kids playing and those participating clamoring for more.
“It was so uncertain at first, but once we got going, people started showing a lot of interest in it, coming up and saying, ‘What about fall?’” Page said. “We decided to go for it. It has turned out really well.”
As of Monday afternoon (the last day to register), 350 Searcy-area kids had signed up to play fall baseball from Aug. 24 through Oct. 6 at the Searcy Sports Complex on Queensway Street.
“The turnout for fall ball has been really, really good. In fact, we’re at a point – and it’s a good problem to have; we only wanted to play Monday and Tuesday because we didn’t want to have any late games because most likely it will be school nights – ... where we don’t have enough fields to be able to do it. Once we get the final number in, we may have some figuring to do on what we’re going to do.”
As far as Page knows, in his 15 years of being around Searcy baseball and as far back as 25 years ago when he was a child, this is the first time the city has had fall baseball. Searcy Parks and Recreation Director Mike Parsons said there was baseball played during the fall in Searcy, but it has been “many, many years.”
When it looked like there was going to be no baseball at all this year, “tons of feedback” came from parents regarding the return of baseball this summer despite a late start, according to Page.
“Everybody was shut in for so long, they got to come out and do something that was kind of normal and the kids get some activity and you know a little socializing, too,” he said. “I think that it’s [fall ball is] going to be another positive for us amidst all this uncertainty we’ve got going on. I’m a little concerned about football being able to play.” Socializing was part of the positive of playing, but also part of the problem because of COVID-19 restrictions, such as social distancing.
“It was definitely concerning because there are people who don’t do it and aren’t going to do it, but we tried to do everything that we could to help them do it,” Page said. “We taped the bleachers 6 feet, sanitizing every day – before the game started, we sanitized the bleachers. We are just kind of relying on people to social distance themselves and that’s really been the challenge.
“I don’t know how this is going to look coming up. It [social distancing] seems to be getting more attention.”
Page said those participating were able to social distance “just fine if they chose to. There were several people who did and they would sit back and bring chairs and just spread out like they needed to. Without it being a crime, there’s not a whole lot we could do to force people to do it.”
The Searcy Recreational Sports League got started due to the city’s inability to come to a user agreement with Searcy Baseball Inc., the organization that had been running the youth baseball program until this year. The city took over maintaining the facilities and running the program from the organization. Page, a volunteer, was tapped by Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne to be the director of the league.
The city provided new equipment at the park after Parsons asked the Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotions Commission earlier this year for “up to $50,000” after all the equipment owned by Searcy Baseball Inc. was removed from the fields. Searcy City Council member Mike Chalenburg made the motion to grant $100,000 to the program with the assurance that the city would not “slack off” on getting sponsorships for the program. The motion was passed unanimously.
About $92,000 has been spent on the program and the rest will be returned to the commission, Parsons said.
“I know turning back $8,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, and there’s definitely things we could’ve spent it on,” he said. “But we told them we would be responsible with the money they gave us, so we wanted to turn back what we did not have to have and be good stewards of the money.”