Young athletes are running out of places to play in Rathdrum.
The city has 130 softball players, 400 Little League players and 480 soccer players. To accommodate them, however, there are only three soccer fields and five baseball fields - and two of the latter are leased from a local church.
“Everybody’s scrounging for field space,” said Jim Ferguson, a coach for the Rathdrum Girls Softball Association. “Just give us the ground to play ball.”
Not all the teams can use the same fields because of the difference in field sizes for softball, hardball and T-ball. Throwing soccer into the mix only compounds the problem.
“We don’t really get a lot of practices in because other teams have to use (the field),” said Lacey Baumann, a player on one of the Rathdrum Girls Softball Association select teams.
Baumann and her teenage teammates were practicing on one of the Stub Meyer Fields late Thursday afternoon.
They throw, pitch and hit fast and hard. Team members function as a coordinated unit on the field and catch virtually everything that comes their way. As Ferguson said, “These girls are good.”
But they and other teams in the girls softball association, Little League and the Lakeland Soccer Club need more fields, organization representatives say.
Little League can use the Lions Club fields, albeit at their cost. And Lakeland School District allows teams to use its fields after school practices are over - but at this time of year, that’s too close to sunset to be of much use, coaches say.
“This is a situation that’s been festering for a while,” said Randy Keefer, a coach with the Rathdrum Girls Softball Association. “We’re probably not going to be able to allow the number of games or practices that we have in the past.”
For its part, the City Council is examining its options.
“We’re going to have to spend some money. The city is going to have to buy some ground,” said city Councilman Mark Worthen, reiterating a philosophy he stated when he ran for re-election in November.
The city has $72,576 in its land dedication fund to purchase or improve park land.
Coaches have questioned why the city hasn’t spent more of that money.
“The city just sits on its hands,” said Larry Knutson, a Little League volunteer. “The population has doubled in the last few years, and the city hasn’t done anything with development money to come up with new fields.”
Developers are required to donate either land or money to the city’s land dedication fund to allay the impact their developments have on the city park system.
“We understand the problem and we definitely appreciate it,” said Jan Hale, city planning administrator. “We’re working toward attaining additional land all the time.”
Fast development has exacerbated the problem, Worthen said.
The field shortage “is one of those growing pains with having a growing town,” he said.
Sports teams from neighboring Athol and Spirit Lake also tend to go to Rathdrum because the Lakeland School District includes those towns as well as Rathdrum.
“So we’re providing services for more than just children within the city limits,” Hale said.
The city fixed up fields in Thayer Park in response to the shortage, but the grass it replanted there is too young for the fields to be used this spring.
The city is looking at improving John Brown Field by John Brown Elementary School, but the city and the school district still are trying to figure out who legally owns the field.
Coach Ferguson said he wants the city to create fields out of about 23 acres of land it owns near Diagonal Road two miles north of town.
That land, however, is far enough out of town that maintenance and security could pose a problem, Worthen said. Because the land is outside city limits, whoever fixes it up also would have to pay to extend city water and sewers to it, said Chuck Holt, city councilman and council liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
But Holt said he hopes the city can turn the land into at least four fields despite those drawbacks. He estimated it would take about two years before the fields there could be ready for play.
He also said he hopes the city can obtain John Brown Field and fix it up. That field is located inside city limits and is connected to sewers and water.
The backstop at John Brown would have to be moved to make the field large enough for hardball games, Knutson said. He offered the aid of Little League in fund raising to help pay for the improvements.
Representatives from the Parks and Recreation Commission will meet today at 7 p.m. at the Sports Arena Pizza & Eatery to discuss the shortage of fields.
The Rathdrum Girls Softball Association will take virtually whatever field space it can get, Ferguson said.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as there’s a place to play ball,” he said. “We’re in a world of hurt.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: What’s next? Representatives from the Parks and Recreation Commission will meet today at 7 p.m. at the Sports Arena Pizza & Eatery to discuss the ballpark shortage.