Stressed little league is turfing it out

Cayman’s local little league has a substantial issue on its hands in regards to field maintenance.

Although the Cayman Islands Little League Association is half-way through paying off its million-dollar debt for the Field of Dreams complex, it faces a serious challenge due to the skyrocketing price of oil.

The 10-year-old facility’s four fields are covered with artificial turf, which have a maximum life expectancy of 10 years.

With the fields now in a deteriorating condition, the association has looked into the cost of replacing the turf.

The problem is the cost of such a venture has dramatically increased because the turf is a petroleum-based product.

‘It will cost us more to re-turf our four fields now than it cost to build the entire facility,’ said newly-elected CILLA President Stuart Knox. ‘We received a quote to re-turf one of our smallest fields for $340,000 and that does not include site preparation.’

With two small fields and two larger ones at the facility, it is estimated that it would cost some $1.8 million to re-turf all four fields at today’s prices.

‘We just don’t normally raise the kind of money to cover that kind of cost,’ said Knox.

CILLA has considered replacing the turf with grass but the cost of water, sprinkler installation and upkeep would outweigh the cost of turf.

The artificial turf playing surface is also a popular choice for baseball fields due to its easy maintenance and durability.

CILLA Programme and Facilities Director Mia Karapita said that because replacing the turf across all the fields is so expensive, they will probably have to take on one field at a time.

‘This year we would like to replace the turf on the smaller field. From there we would do another field another year and so on.’

Raising the money to do that won’t be easy and will require some new methods of raising funds.

‘Our only real solution to raise the kind of money we need is to try to get some corporate sponsors for the fields,’ Knox said.

‘We’re coming up with a proposal to take to some private sector companies for the naming rights to each field for an annual donation.

‘If we can get the guaranteed income, we could borrow what we need to get the fields re-turfed.’

The Little League still has about CI$500,000 left to pay on the loan it originally took out a decade ago.

The loan was granted by CIBC (now First Caribbean Bank) for a total of CI$1 million or US$1.2 million.

The money from the loan was used to buy some 17 acres of land in George Town and establish the Field of Dreams facility.

The league raises money to service the loan through public contributions, team sponsorships, field rentals and annual fundraising events like its auction and raffle.

Unfortunately, the cost of oil has raised CILLA’s expenses in other ways as well, primarily through the higher electricity costs of running its high-powered lighting for night games.

Except for the turf issue though, Knox says the league is in good shape.

‘We’re at a stage now where we are much closer to paying [the original loan] off. We have acres of land yet to use and we still fund-raise, but the programme is still completely free and we don’t charge the kids.’

Karapita echoed those sentiments. ‘We’re going upwards, we’re making improvements. The main thing is we’re still one of the only free sports on the island.’

CILLA also spends money to send children away to tournaments abroad and defrays some of the cost to host the Chicago White Sox training camp.

Knox said the third annual White Sox training camp this year was a huge success.

‘The end result was that our local kids went abroad and beat US children for their fourth trophy in three years,’ he said.

In addition to the roughly 500 children that take part in the Little League programme, another 500 people play men’s, women’s and co-ed softball at the facility.

Essentially that allows baseball/softball to maintain one of the highest levels of participation among all sports in Cayman.

The turf issue notwithstanding, the league’s relatively good financial status is a revelation considering the amount of upkeep that goes into the facility.

Knox says Cayman’s predisposition to the forces of nature plays a big role in maintaining the facility.

‘Basically our lights get pounded by the hurricanes. Those like Ivan accelerate the wear time on our facilities. A lot of small things like fences end up having to be replaced due to rust.’

Because the fields are used so much, CILLA has two full-time employees in Karapita and a maintenance man. The rest of the work necessary is done by volunteers.

‘The field is a million dollar facility that takes about $100,000 to keep it running each year,’ Knox said. ‘All of that money comes from sponsorship and public contributions.

‘Although we don’t receive anything from the government right now we’re going to have to ask them for some help too.’

The next big event on the calendar will be the start of the 2009 season. Registration takes place 15 and 22 of November at the Field of Dreams.

The league is set to begin mid-January and runs until the end of May or early June.

CILLA officials like Knox and Karapita see a bright and busy future for the league, regardless of the finances.

Among the plans they’re looking to implement are further development of the parking lot, hosting of an international competition of some sort and attracting professional baseball teams to Cayman to relax and train at the facility.

Ultimately, Knox hopes the public and corporate world will help CILLA face its turf challenge.

‘The support of the public has kept the programme going and I’m confident it’ll do so in the future. We have to remember that Little League is about the kids who want to simply run around and hit a ball.’

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