NEW BETHLEHEM — More space, more room for more kids, hopefully.
That’s the desire of at least the Redbank Valley Sports Boosters and New Bethlehem Little League as they voiced their willingness to find some land in the New Bethlehem area to develop into more ballfields — baseball, softball and even soccer.
It’s not a new idea. The Little League complex is basically land-locked on the grounds of the Redbank Valley Little League while the older division baseball teams have bounced around to different locations — the now defunct field in Hawthorn, Oak Ridge and currently at Redbank Valley Municipal Park. None of those have been ideal.
“People have talked about this 15 years or so, and if we don’t do something about it, we’ll still be talking about it 15 years from now,” said Matt Darr, the Booster Club Vice President.
The Boosters and NBLL both stated that they’re willing to purchase land, or accept a donation of a tract that’s somewhat flat. A building located on the property isn’t necessary, but could be used for indoor batting cages. The proposed complex could be used for Little League baseball, perhaps the high school team, a youth football field or practices fields for youth programs along with a possible sand volleyball court.
That’s all part of a possible plan, but the bottom line is that it wouldn’t necessarily replace the current Little League complex, just add to the facility total.
“From people I talked to, this isn’t the first time Little League has looked into moving out of the current situation,” said NBLL President Dave Hepler. “The biggest thing is that we don’t want to put money into property we don’t have full control over. We lease it from the high school or the park or township. Any improvements have to be approved, so its difficult.”
The margin of error on completing schedules with the current NBLL setup is very little.
“The biggest thing for us right now is that we can make those two fields we have work right now and the goal is to build the program, but an increase of 10 percent will really make it hard to get games in.”
The league hasn’t made up much if any of its postponed games this year, because of field availability.
“We don’t have the field availability or time to finish it,” Hepler said.
Adding another complex to the community would allow for more flexible scheduling, perhaps eventually a lighted field that would open up the available time slots drastically. Hosting tournaments currently isn’t an option. Many other area leagues use tournaments as significant money-raising events.
The high school softball team currently uses the Little League complex during its spring season while the baseball team has gone from Hawthorn to Oak Ridge back to Redbank Valley Municipal Park in the last decade or so.
“It is really a scheduling nightmare,” Hepler said. “We could really use two more baseball-usable fields. Two more opens up the world. We can’t run a tournament.”
While a big part of the concerns are for the baseball and softball programs, Darr acknowledged that the strain put on the high school stadium, especially during a wet fall, really exposes a non-turf facility.
“There’s more going on with youth football, even flag football and soccer growing,” Darr said. “We’d like to play tournaments and last fall the football field, with the wet weather we had, it was used every night and got to the point where you couldn’t use it any more.”
Most important, Darr looks at the situation as an obvious investment in area youth.
“The days of leaving the house in the summer time and going to neighborhoods are gone,” Darr said. “If it’s not organized, it’s not happening and we need facilities to do that.
“We may wind up with the best Fortnight kids in world, but will they understand a team concept on how to win and lose together, sportsmanship, team aspect, all of that? So the more we can do for the kids, the better.
“We’re happy with everything that’s provided, but we need more.”
Both organizations are looking and really to spend money on the project if the right parcel of ground is available. And from there, work on the best way to facilitate and build the complex, through public donations, fund-raisers and grants that might be available.
“We’re not looking for a donation, although we’d be happy with that, but we have some organizations who have said they’d help with that,” Darr said.
The area youth soccer organization, United Valley, which has a 12-acre tract of ground along the Redbank Creek in Hawthorn, has similar challenges of space, especially since the facility lies in a flood plain. Another outlet for games and practices would be welcomed as well.
“We have money to spend and we’re willing to spend if we need to,” said Hepler of the NBLL. “We don’t want to move eight miles out of town, but at the same time, we can work with something, land with two fields being great and enough for four, even better.
“If we can add more than that, anything extra to what we have now is all bonus. Ideally, we’d love to be able to build a youth sports complex and house everything that’s going on.”