Softball league could put squeeze on facilities

The first pitch for the new Blythewood girls’ softball league is still two months from being thrown out, but already the question hovering over the local athletic community is: Will there be enough to go around?

Enough playing fields, that is; and that is the issue Blythewood Mayor Michael J. Ross has asked Bob Mangone to help alleviate before the league begins play Sept. 1. Ross recently tapped Mangone to chair a committee with the goal of formulating a plan to secure more playing fields.

“The Blythewood Baseball League has three fields here (at Blythewood Park), but we need more,” Mangone said. “If we had more, we could run tournaments and still have fields for the local kids. I understand we had to turn kids away last year because we didn’t have enough facilities, and this year fewer kids applied.”

Baseball is big in Blythewood, and Mangone said summer play runs into July and picks up again in August – right into a potential conflict with the Recreation Center’s proposed softball league.

“I’m pushing for a softball league and I know it’s going to be a problem,” Jeff Brown, manager of Blythewood Park, said. “I don’t want to mess with the baseball program, but at the same time, we can’t discriminate.”

Brown pointed out last week that it was the anniversary of the passage of Title IX, which mandates equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls.

“We’re going to have a field for the girls,” Brown said. “It is a baseball/softball complex. Softball is a park-run program, and park-run programs have priority.”

Looking to stave off any potential baseball-softball showdown, Mangone said the first plan would be to access a plot of land adjacent to the Blythewood Park offices. Three vacant mobile homes and a storage building currently sit on the property, which Mangone said could be considered an “eye-sore.” Still, he said, it would be preferable to acquire the land without a government “taking” of the property and his committee is working through the details of how best to do so.

Meanwhile, the field behind Bethel Hanberry Elementary School could be upgraded and put into use by either the softball or the baseball league, something Brown agreed would be a relatively quick fix. Brown also said a field exists behind the Community Center that, with a little work, could also be brought back to life.

“Basically, we have enough fields now to have tournaments,” Brown said, “but we could always use more.

“There are enough fields. We’ve done it before,” Brown continued, referencing the championship softball banners that hang in the Recreation Center. “Title IX demands it, and there is a demand for it. We’re going to work something out so everybody is happy.”

Mangone said his committee plans to hold a public forum on the issue in early August to seek input from the community.

In the long-term, Ross said, fields could be included in Phase 2 of the Doko Meadows Park, but, he added, that would not come in time to accommodate the upcoming softball league.

“It’s a tough situation,” Ross said. “We want more fields so that everyone can play, and not have to be there until 10 o’clock at night on a school night. That’s not fair to do that to the kids. If the people decide they would like ball fields in Phase 2 at Doko Meadows, we could do that. Right now, we’re working with the Richland County Recreation Commission to secure more fields.”

Calls to Bill Trapp, president of the Blythewood Baseball League, were not returned at press time.