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The Catoosa County Parks and Recreation Department is taking over operations of youth sports in the county.

Over the past few months, both the Ringgold Youth Sports Association and Boynton Recreation Youth Association were absorbed by the department. Consolidation talks began in late 2019, said department Director Catlin Conduff.

"We met with both groups and just approached them with an idea of consolidating to make an overall combined program offering great quality for all county kids," she said. "The county is in a situation financially and staff-wise that we have enough people and resources to actually provide the programs on our own now."

RYSA has existed for more than 30 years, previously as Ringgold Youth Athletic Association, offering a growing number of sports with the help of parents and volunteers.

"The proposal was creating a partnership to determine a way to offer the youth the most affordable set of programs with maximum support from Catoosa County," a December 2019 post on RYSA's website reads. "After multiple discussions, it has been decided that the best solution is to partner with Catoosa County Recreation Department moving forward."

While Conduff said the county offered the associations the opportunity to continue operation, it was made clear that county use of the county-owned facilities would be prioritized. In the past, the Ringgold and Boynton associations were the primary users of the fields — the Ringgold league using the Poplar Spring Complex and Boynton using the park in front of Boynton Elementary School — while the parks and recreation department worked around their schedules, she said.

"We wanted an opportunity to run our own youth programs on our facilities," said Conduff.

Now that the county will have more use of the facilities, it has more of an incentive to maintain and upgrade the fields. At its Feb. 4 meeting, the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners approved $9,500 for the design and construction of a new restroom and concession stand at Poplar Springs.

"We have not been making large improvements to those fields like how we have been doing with Jack Mattox, and so the fields have really taken a beating the past couple years," she said.

The county will adopt 3-on-3 basketball this spring, which both associations offered.

League rules and volunteer requirements will remain the same, she said, and the county has created an advisory committee made up of nine members, including three each from the Ringgold and Boynton associations, that will oversee the league.

"I really want to make sure that we have a smooth transition between the associations to the county running the programs," said Conduff. "We are going to make sure that we provide an extremely fair and fun experience for our volunteers, our parents, but most importantly, our kids."

She encourages past volunteer coaches to apply with the county. "If you've put the time in with your kids each year in now, we're going to definitely take that into consideration when we select coaches," she said.

The county will also offer coach clinics and training with professionals in the area in the hopes of enticing more volunteers to step up to the plate.

The consolidation will allow for lower registration costs, Conduff said. Before, the per-child cost ranged from about $80-$100. Now, it'll be $25-$50, with a multi-child discount for families.

Conduff said she wants to try to make these costs even lower in the future. In Columbia and Rome, where she previously worked, she saw how a unified league can bring in more children and in turn allow for lower costs that can be maintained, she said.

"If you look at a lot of our neighboring Georgia agencies and other recreation departments, their costs are still lower than $50," she said. "Unfortunately, our community has had to pay higher prices, but now, even though it's 2020 and we're behind [other agencies], it's better late than never."

Conduff noted that when registering, kids will have the opportunity to choose Catoosa-Ringgold or Catoosa-Boynton.

"We're not going to mandate somebody playing a specific area," she said. "We don't want them to lose their identity."

Locals can sign up for spring baseball, softball, 3-on-3 basketball, soccer and volleyball at catoosarec.com through Feb. 14, or through Feb. 21 for an additional $5.

Boynton Recreation will continue to operate as a nonprofit and any money made by the association will go toward registration and equipment scholarships, Conduff said, while the Ringgold league will dissolve in June.

Email Sabrina Bodon at sbodon@timesfreepress.com.

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