Area ranges in sporting atmosphere

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Elton Reece took over as the Parks and Recreation Director in Selma in February 1991. There were 41 teams. Today, there are more than 160 teams. Multiply that number by 10, and you’ll find the sum of the number of problems he endures each day.

“We’ve had every kind of problem that you can have,” Reece said.

Seventy-seven miles east of Selma lays the small college town of Livingston, where Parks and Recreation Director Pat Ezell is in his first year overseeing his 11-team youth baseball and softball league. But unlike Reece, Ezell’s problems are considerably small and simple.

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“We’re small in number and have been very fortunate to have not seen any severe problems with our youth baseball and softball leagues,” Ezell said.

Their connection to each other is found in Demopolis, for if Livingston is the past, Selma is the future. In Demopolis, the sporadic problems appear pale in comparison to the struggles of Selma. Unlike Livingston, though, the league is not immune.

In 1991, there were 41 little league baseball teams in Selma, none of which were girl’s softball teams.

“Back then, we had two fields and 41 teams,” Reece said. “It was real simple.”

Today there are over 160 teams with over 3,200 participants, and the city of Selma pays for it all.

“We don’t have any volunteer parents or coaches to run our youth baseball and softball leagues,” Reese said. “The entire program is completely run by the city of Selma. We provide the facilities, uniforms, concession, maintenance and umpires, and we do it for free.”

Yes, free. Anyone and everyone can play. That’s the way it has always been in Selma.

But just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.

“When you add numbers, you add problems,” Reece said.

And Reece has sure seen his share of them. Over the years, there have been numerous reports of parents hollering at coaches, coaches hollering at umpires, parents hollering at umpires, not to mention arrests, fights and one or two incidents involving a gun.

“This is a seven day a week, 24-hour a day job that we have to stay on top of constantly,” Reese said.

These problems have led to strict rules that include a mandatory one-year ban for any coach who is ejected from any game. There are no plea-bargains or light sentencing, either.

“Two years ago, we had to beef up our rules after various incidents involving coaches,” Reece said. “Back then we were averaging about 10-15 ejections per year. Now I think we are down to about two per year.”

But of course, even in Selma, the biggest problems seem to stem from parents. “The biggest problem that we face here in Selma would be, because we run a free program, our parents have no parental obligations,” Reese said. “They take what they have for granted.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Livingston, where there are only 11 teams, two of which were added this year, and the philosophy is simple: you pay, you play, you have fun.

“We don’t have the numbers that, say, Demopolis has here in Livingston,” Ezell said. We kind of wish we did. But we have a great group of coaches and umpires who do just about anything to help see this program succeed.”

While the problems in Selma are of the worst kind, the problems of Livingston are a little more simplistic.

“I can’t recall any serious problems this season,” Ezell said. “We’re just happy to have a program and to have enough kids to play.”