By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Craig Malisow
Eventually, Stripling wrote a short public memo that appeared in the Viewpoints column of the Houston Chronicle. This was not, she said, "a case of putting some children ahead of others. HISD already has many excellent arrangements with Little Leagues for the shared use of facilities." She went on to say there was a solution, but it would take some time.
She touched a nerve with her next statement: "Everyone involved in this issue has been supportive of public education and deserves to be heard." Well, as far as personal and corporate taxes that go to pay for the schools, yes. Stripling is apparently very grateful these people haven't mounted a major offensive to any school bond elections.
But it's kind of tough to match the phrase "supportive of public education" with people who don't put their kids in public schools.
The Fields For All supporters who showed up at the December 12 school board meeting came from a variety of backgrounds. They were eloquent and, above all, refreshingly brief.
"This is not about finding a place for a handful of our kids to play regulation soccer a few times a year. Nor is it about evicting the Little League from the property," said parent Tim Jenkinson, who has a second-grader in the Vanguard program at Rogers. "This is about extending the vision of equal opportunities for all of our students beyond the classroom to the fields that surround them. This is about rectifying oversights that have accumulated for 20 years."
The Rogers student council drew up a resolution, asking HISD to act in the best interests of students rather than "outsiders" first. Special education teacher Shelly Greenman asked for a flat exercise area for the 70 percent of her multiply impaired students who are wheelchair-bound.
Sarah Kelly, whose son, Adam, is in the multiply impaired hearing program, talked about the dangers to the deaf students who can't hear the trucks and machinery operated on the baseball fields during school hours.
Another parent, Anne Armador, echoed those concerns. She has two students at Rogers and told of the day her daughter, a kindergartner, told her she's almost been run over by a truck on the playground.
"The Little League parents are not uncaring or unfeeling people," Armador said. "I think these safety conditions have come about gradually over the past 20 years with the perception that the fields belong to the Little League. It has been forgotten that the fields are really a schoolyard."
The leagues have already made some changes, Shadwick said. The mesh is off the Pee Wee field fence and the fence itself will eventually come down, he predicted. He expects the playground drainage problems will be fixed.
Every HISD grade school is getting a pavilion, Shadwick said. Laurie Bricker said she has already asked that Rogers be "resparked" by the SPARK park project. At a minimum, a walking track would be added.
Shadwick said all ADA compliance issues will be handled separately. "All the safety issues are no-brainers. If it's any safety issue, consider it done."
Each year, Rogers hosts a spaghetti dinner for the Vanguard program to welcome new students. The Little League and Pony League are asked not to schedule any games that night because parking space is limited.
But last year, they still ran into trouble. One of the police officers hired to provide security came into the dinner shaking his head. It seems that while the official schedule was clear of any Little League games, some makeups for rainouts had been scheduled.
One woman became irate when the officer told her she couldn't park at Rogers that night because of the spaghetti supper. No, I'm with the baseball team, she said. Sorry, the officer told her, tonight the lot is reserved for the dinner. This isn't the school's parking lot, she told him. This is our parking lot. You tell them to get out, she told the off-duty cop.
It's not that hard to understand why Little League and Pony League parents want to hang on to what they've worked so hard to build. Houston has a dismal history of setting aside park space. Are River Oaks boys supposed to drive out to the suburbs to crack a bat, catch a ball, feel the wind in their hair? Inner Loop rich kids need green space, too. Sports provide valuable lessons in courage, determination and resourcefulness.
And in sharing.