Tattered Friendship Park fields’ division draws controversy

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tattered and torn, Friendship Park managed to support youth athletic programs last year, and though in better shape this year, the park at which generations of Picayune area children have participated in youth sports is still showing the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Just as last year when some parents weren’t happy with the battered facilities at Friendship Park, some aren’t happy this year either. The Picayune Amateur Softball Association complained to the Picayune City Council last night that it is unhappy with how Ryan Moreaux, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department director, divided up the fields this year.

A report by Moreaux on Friendship Park, its programs and the complaints about his decisions came at the end of the meeting.

In his report on the park prior to PASA’s complaining about the fields they have been allotted, Moreaux said that more than 300 girls and more than 750 boys will be playing summer sports at the park this year. The girls’ softball teams have been allotted six fields and the boys’ baseball teams have been allotted five fields, he said.

However, Moreaux is asking the girls’ softball organization to play on a field that is located among those used by Picayune Youth Athletic Association boys’ teams. The problem has been in getting all the fields at the expanded facility repaired and new lights and light poles, canopies and fences in place for this year, Moreaux said. The new concrete light poles are a major problem, taking longer to get than expected, he said.

Parents of the girls, lead by PASA president Steven Serpas, complained about the Moreaux’s plan, which would have some of the girls using portable toilets and the organization having to arrange with a soft drink company for a concession stand.

The major complaint, Serpas said, is over security. He said that last year, the organization had to spend its own money for security because the city’s security provisions through the Picayune Police Department were inadequate. Serpas said there as a lot of fighting among onlookers and other visitors at the park, as well as a lot of skateboarding. He also alleged some male onlookers followed the young girls players to the bathrooms and used portable toilets setaside for the girls’ use.

“We think there’s a big safety issue with 13 and 14 year old boys among the younger (7 and 8 year old) girls,” Serpas said.

After appearing to allege that it was the boys on PYAA’s 13 and 14 year old teams that were fighting and causing other problems for the girls, he acknowledged that the real problem was with onlookers who gathered in a field not be used for any sports next to the girls’ softball field.

Serpas also wants the city to spend what he estimated to be up to $3,000 to repair some poles and lights on at least one of the fields the girls would be using.

Moreaux said spending any money on lights and poles that are to be replaced before next year’s season would be a waste of money.

“It doesn’t do any good to spend money on lights when we are going to replace them for next year,” Moreaux said.

After listening to Serpas for a while, Councilman Leavern Guy interrupted and said, “I don’t have too much patience with all this. The boys have 750 boys and five fields and you have 300 girls and six fields. All we are asking for you to do is be patient and work with us through this year.”

City Manager Ed Pinero, who was not in that position during last year’s summer sports season, said that he wanted to sit down with PASA’s leadership and work out what would be needed in the way of security for the current year.

“Safety issues can be worked out,” Guy said.

Councilman Anna Turnage said she had two children participating on sports teams at the park, including a daughter that plays on a PASA team.

“I also back what Ryan Moreaux says, but I also have a daughter on a 7 and 8 year old team up there. My husband is a coach. … I saw parents smoking and cursing and saw people kicked out of the park for their actions,” Turnage said. “I challenge other parents to help enforce the rules.”

Mayor Greg Mitchell said that if the issues can’t be worked out, then the city could cancel the season, something he said he wants to avoid.

“Instead of turning people down to play ball, we told them to come ahead,” Mitchell said, speaking of last year. “But if we can’t do this the way it should be done, then we don’t need to be playing. … I believe we can keep them safe, and if we can’t, let’s stop the season (this year).”

The mayor said Picayune area parents are fortunate, because many youth sports programs along the Gulf Coast still have no place to play because of the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

“What we have here, it’s better than most,” Mitchell said.

He went on to point out that the residents of Picayune are paying for the ongoing upgrades at the park being made through a series of bond sales that they are having to retire with their taxes while inviting everyone from the surrounding area to participate in the programs at the facility.

In responding to other citizen issues at the end of the meeting, Pinero asked Dr. Earl Fox to leave him a copy of the natural gas bill he had a problem with so that he could go over it in trying to find a way to respond to Fox’s complaint that there is no way for a citizen to use the information on the bill to determine if it is correct.

Managers of the Days Inn also were asked to meet with Pinero to discuss problems with the road running in front of their place of business.

In other business, the council:

— At the beginning of the meeting, Mitchell and the council and members of St. Matthew Baptist Church had a ceremonial deed signing and the church presented the city with a check for a piece of property the church plans to use for an expansion.

— Approved closing part of Teague Street at Goodyear Boulevard from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, May 12, for the Save-A-Life organization’s walkers.

— Approved proclaiming Saturday as The Great American Clean-Up Pick It Up Picayune.

— Accepted donations from the WIN Job Center.

— Accepted donations from Wal-Mart and Home Depot to support Saturday’s cleanup.

— Approved a request to submit an application to the governor’s commission for a National Civil Rights Museum in Picayune.

— Approved appointing Ermie Lavell to the Utility Authority. Guy and Councilman Donald Parker voted against the nomination.

— Approved appointing Jack Nail and Larry Breland to Partners for Pearl River County.

— Approved a request for city water service for Elvin R. Kennedy at 757 Liberty Road.

— Rezoned property on East Jerusalem from R-2 to C-D and property at U.S. 11 and Lakeshore Drive from A-1 to C-3.

— Approved a subdivision request for a preliminary plat for property between Bales and South Blanks

— Granted a six-month extension for a temporary residential mobile home on church property at 800 S. Beech St.

— Set Tuesday, April 17, a the date for a public hearing on property cleanup.

— Approved a series of grants and grant applications.

— Approved allowing the fire department to submit a computer as surplus property since it can’t be repaired.

— Went into executive session on two contractual matters, a land sale and a personnel matter.

Adjourned.