When it comes to turf battles in Brookfield, perhaps the most fierce concern actual turf?”or, rather, turf with dirt infields.
The battle for field time on the village’s youth baseball diamonds made its way to the village council chambers Monday night with the Brookfield National Little League asking the village board to intervene in a squabble over field use between the league and the Western Conference Babe Ruth League.
Reluctant to get publicly involved in the brouhaha, Village President Bill Russ instructed representatives from both leagues to work out a solution. But afterwards, it wasn’t at all clear that both sides would be able to come to an agreement over six dates Brookfield National Little League is seeking at the field the Western Conference league uses at Jaycee/Ehlert Park.
“Will we be able to solve it this year?” asked Western Conference President Jim Tischler. “Maybe not; I don’t know.”
The tiff between the leagues highlights the unique relationship between the village and Little League organizations that use village parks, and the reason each league is very protective of its “home” field.
Although Brookfield does have a Parks and Recreation Commission that oversees general matters pertaining to the various park areas of the village, it for decades has virtually ceded control of the baseball fields at Kiwanis and Ehlert parks to the Little League groups.
Over the years, Brookfield National has spent thousands of dollars to improve and maintain the fields there–from dugouts to lights to fences. Roy Overholt, after whom the main field is named, spends countless hours each summer manicuring the diamond.
“Roy Overholt puts in six to eight hour days on the field,” said Brookfield National President Brian Ticknor. “He enjoys it, but he’s meticulous in what he does.”
Meanwhile, at Ehlert Park, Brookfield American Little League and the Western Conference Babe Ruth League maintain their respective fields. According to Tischler, the three leagues have spent over $45,000 on the fields in just the past two years.
“It didn’t come from the village,” he said. “It came from the leagues.”
In fact, the village contributes $1,000 to each league each year. The rest–from cutting the grass to buying lightbulbs for the light standards–comes from the leagues.
And that, say some who run the leagues, gives them control over the use of the fields.
“Granted the village owns the property, but all the sweat belongs to the leagues,” said Kevin Paloucek. “The leagues should have control of the fields. For someone to come in and say, ‘You’ve got to do it this way’ creates a lot of problems.”
According to Tischler the group demanding that Western Conference change its ways is the Brookfield Parks and Recreation Commission. Typically, the commission sits down with the leagues to allocate field time to all of the groups looking to use the diamonds at Kiwanis and Ehlert parks.
With more and more groups seeking to horn in, the task gets more and more difficult. For example, Brookfield National is allowing a traveling youth baseball team to grab some field time at Kiwanis Park. At the same time, Brookfield National would like six dates total at The Western Conference field for three of its teams.
Brookfield National says giving the traveling teams space has nothing to do with the request for field time at Ehlert Park.
“In no way was it brought about by the other organization asking for our field,” said Mike Czubik, vice president of the Brookfield National Major Boys. “We have to play all day games. The only reason we made the request was to showcase the fields in the village of Brookfield.”
The Western Conference folks simply don’t believe that explanation.
Caught in the middle of the dispute, the Parks and Recreation Commission attempted to gather all of the leagues together to resolve the issue. Linda Stevanovich, the village board’s liaison to the commission, said that she came away from that meeting feeling that everyone was on the same page. Ticknor, who had requested field time from the Rec Commission back in October of 2004, felt the issue was resolved, too.
But a recent letter from Village Manager Dave Owen to Ticknor indicated Brookfield National’s request for field space had been denied, prompting his appeal to the village board Monday.
“I’m baffled,” Ticknor said. “Getting our request by October 15 isn’t soon enough?”
Western Conference officials came away from the Rec Commission meeting with the feeling that their control over the field was being usurped. The issue could have been resolved, they said, if only Brookfield National had come to them directly and asked for field time–the way Riverside-Brookfield High School did–instead of being told by the Rec Commission that they would simply have to make room.
“If they would have come to us and said, ‘Can we get six games?’ we could have said, OK, we’ll se what we can do after April 1 [when the league makes its schedule,” Tischler said. “We gave RB all the games they wanted. It doesn’t hurt to ask. You don’t demand.”
And despite Stevanovich’s assessment that the fields “belong to the Village of Brookfield; they belong to everyone,” the village finds itself hamstrung by its own tradition. The leagues know that the only way the village can reclaim the fields is to start taking responsibility for them.
“Take over the leagues,” said Paloucek.