Little League task force goes back to square one

After several months hiatus – to attend to the summer sports season – the members of the Keizer Little League Long Range Planning Task Force reconvened Sept. 4. Unfortunately, much of the progress that had been made appeared to have fallen to the wayside. 

The task force was convened by the city to craft a sustainable plan for the future of Keizer Little League Park after running into turbulence by contracting out management to the youth leagues themselves. When the task force last met, in the spring, the plan was to begin beta-testing some of the ideas that might move toward establishing a new oversight board dedicated to the needs of the park. One of the items the task force hoped to see some movement on was the two leagues, Keizer Little League and McNary Youth Baseball (MYB), collaborating on staffing the concession stand on the site. 

“We reached out and tried to make an effort, but it just didn’t work out,” said Bo Lane, vice president of MYB. 

McNary Youth Baseball uses the KLL Park when possible, but the cost of slot fees, or field rental fees, often pushes them into other parks where the fees are lower or non-existent. Keizer Little League currently holds the contract for park operations and will continue to do so through at least fall 2020. 

Without question, the parties involved are wrestling with big questions and the fate of the park hangs in the balance, but much of the task force meetings are consumed in avoidance of the elephant in the room: does the community – as a whole – value the park and, if so, what should be done to maintain it and provide for any future investments?

For the members of the task force, it results in a lot of chicken-or-egg discussion about what is needed to chart a course forward. 

The current plans, for a new board of directors to oversee the operations and improvement of the park, are dependent on generating enough revenue through the concession stand to pay for upkeep. The expectation is that parents and supporters of MYB and Keizer Little League will ramp up volunteer involvement to staff the concession stand.  

After a rejuvenation of concession revenues in 2018, the cash flow dipped this year, said Brad Arnsmeier, president of Keizer Little League. A slippage in league participation overall in 2019 left its mark on the revenue generated. 

“The problem is there were not enough games at the park, and even the events that we thought would pull us through didn’t yield enough,” Arnsmeier said. “One tournament that could have had 30 to 40 games was down to five because the number of teams eligible to participate dropped.”

An estimate of expected concession revenue this year is not yet available, he added. 

The task force would like to see annual concession revenues of at least $35,000, but achieving that would require more volunteers during times when outside tournaments are in session. 

June and July tend to be the slowest months for the park and prime time for adult and travel leagues. Matt Lawyer, the Keizer Parks Advisory Board member on the task force, suggested scheduling more tournaments during that time. 

“To place additional burden on the youth leagues at a time when it is supposed to be a down time … that’s a big ask,” Arnsmeier said. Arnsmeier said the current demands of the Little League presidency are the reason he is choosing to step aside later this year. 

Additionally, scheduling outside tournaments, which would have to happen before youth leagues get a chance to schedule their games, might also infringe on the availability of the park for Keizer youth. 

If the park can’t generate enough concession revenue – using an all-volunteer workforce – there will be no future improvements and maintaining the current facilities will become difficult.

Clint Holland, who ran the concession stand for long stretches throughout the history of the park but is not a member of the task force, said the leagues also need to generate more excitement about their teams to draw in the crowds that will purchase hotdogs, popcorn, candy and other treats from the concession stand. He mentioned Sprague Little League’s recent appearance at the Little League World Series as one recent example. 

“We are trying to make that change at the grassroots level and make [Keizer Little League] more attractive to competitive players,” Arnsmeier said. 

Arnsmeier asked that the Keizer Little League and MYB be given the chance to meet in a less formal setting to hash out what a true collaboration might look like and develop plans for scheduling that would generate concession revenues, eliminate slot fees altogether for both Keizer youth leagues, and develop a list of maintenance projects and desired improvements. 

Perhaps the most telling moment of the meeting came after a question by City Councilor Dan Kohler: “Is this something that you want or is this just a pipe dream from the city?” Kohler did not specify whether he meant the current plans or the park as a facility. 

After a protracted silence, Arnsmeier replied, “Yeah, there are good people in MYB, but they don’t have the incentive [to get involved in operations] and we don’t ask as much as we should. I feel like Little League does the lion’s share of all the work, but it’s still a community park. If we can find an agreement that gets both sides out there doing the work, the complex will be better for it.”