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Staff file photo / The town of Signal Mountain is considering taking over scheduling of the mountain's youth rec leagues and everyday maintenance of the fields at Shackleford Ridge Park near Signal Mountain Middle/High School.

The various Signal Mountain youth sports leagues and school teams have differing opinions on the town's potential takeover of the rec leagues and scheduling for the fields located next to Signal Mountain Middle/High School.

Hamilton County owns the fields next to the school, and Hamilton County Schools leases them from the county. That gives the school priority use of those fields, according to Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb.

But since the county park was paid for using state grants, it must be open to the public when not in use by the school.

Tifni Herlevic, president of the Signal Mountain Lacrosse League's board of directors, said her experience over the past three years of trying to schedule field space for the league's seven teams has been a nightmare. She typically has to call about six different people to find a space for them to play.

When she tried to find out who owns the fields near the school and who's responsible for maintaining them three years ago, no one seemed to know, she said.

According to SMMHS Sports Boosters President Kevin Menzel, Hamilton County Schools maintains the indoor sports facilities at SMMHS, with maintenance of all the outdoor facilities falling on volunteers and parents related to the school's teams. Maintenance costs aside from labor are covered by public donations and fundraisers held by the school's various outdoor sports teams, which each have their own funds under the parent-led Sports Boosters, he said.

"Each sport tries to be self-sufficient," he said. "From the Boosters' perspective, all we do is raise money to help the kids. Control of the fields is beyond our scope."

He worries that free help provided by volunteers such as Pete Kelley and David Ward, who either never had kids who played sports at the school or whose kids no longer attend, would stop if the town takes over.

According to an independent study the Sports Boosters presented to the town council, to maintain the seven high school athletic fields (which excludes the three multiuse fields used by the recreational soccer league), it would cost around $175,000 without volunteer labor and discounts the Boosters receive from companies for supplies such as fertilizer, he said.

Menzel noted that if use of those fields increases, wear and tear on the fields — and associated maintenance expenses — will increase as well.

Herlevic said she's for the town taking over scheduling because it would be easier to have one central entity keeping track of which fields are available when. The lacrosse league's biggest problem is finding lighted fields to use for games. One issue is that soccer and lacrosse have the same season, she said.

Her league currently rents fields for its home games at Boyd-Buchanan and McCallie schools and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

About a year ago, Signal Mountain Lacrosse started a petition on Change.org, "Allow Signal Mountain Lacrosse to Use Community Fields," that had garnered 1,265 signatures as of press time. The league has contacted Hamilton County Parks and Recreation on numerous occasions since spring 2017, but minimal steps were taken to make field space equally available to the league, the petition states.

The situation has improved over the past year, said Herlevic, with the high school band allowing use of its field for lacrosse practice. An update posted to the petition site also thanks the high school soccer team and rec soccer league for allowing the team to use fields to practice last spring.

Still, she hopes the league will secure permission to use a field for its home games. The petition was presented to Hamilton County Parks and Recreation and County Mayor Jim Coppinger's office in January 2019.

While centralizing field operations could guarantee equal play, Keith Bohman, who's involved with the mountain's 12U and 14U community baseball teams, is concerned it would mean less money for the leagues.

Speaking at the council's Oct. 28 meeting, he said he volunteers to maintain the field at the high school used by his players and often umpires games so that the $15 registration fee players pay and the tournament fees collected by the league go back to the kids. That would change if the town uses the fees to pay the salary of a youth rec sports coordinator, he said.

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com

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