Austin turns out the lights at youth fields - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Austin turns out the lights at youth fields

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Nine-year-old Jim Bryce spends a good part of each year on the baseball field.

"We've been out here for years," said mom Jennifer Bryce. "My 12-year-old, Noah, started in first grade so these guys have grown up out here." Younger sister, Annie, is working on her swing as well.

About 1,200 kids play on the fields in Oak Hill each spring and another 700 in the fall. "In the Oak hill area these are the only fields kids can come out and play baseball and softball," said Stephen Bega, president of the Oak Hill Youth Sports Association, which owns the six baseball and two softball fields off Joe Tanner Lane and Highway 290 West.

Turning on the lights in the evenings is a necessity. He says for decades, the city has provided the utility subsidy to the fields, but that is being phased out.

"In the next five years, these subsidies will be decreased by 20 percent. This year we're only getting 80 percent, next year will be 60 percent and 40, 20 until eventually it's at zero," Bega said.

According to Bega, it costs about $4,300 a year to keep the lights on at each field. That adds up to roughly $40,000 a year in Oak Hill. Four of the 18 youth sports organizations associated with the City of Austin use private property that are not required to be open to the public. According to the City of Austin Parks and Rec. Department, that's one reason for the cuts.

"We try to use our resources to provide the best services to the most organizations possible," said Victor Ovalle with the City of Austin Parks and Rec. Dept. "Private property users are able to independently establish fees. That is not available to organizations that work with us or partner with us on park land."

Bega says the budget shortfall most likely means raising registration rates.

"Obviously we don't want to do that, but to make up that money that may be our only alternative and the fear in that is we're going to price out these families that can't afford to pay the increased registration to play youth baseball or softball," Bega said.

Bryce adds, "If those added costs upped the rate of our registration, I think that could hurt the chance of some families being a part of our league and I would hate for them to miss what we have built here."

She wants her kids and all their teammates to continue to enjoy America's favorite past time.

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