EDITORIAL: TIME TO REKINDLE BALLFIELDS DISCUSSION
Local youth baseball and softball teams are once again on the heels of what was another successful spring and summer season, with strong finishes at both the league and state level highlighting the effort. That includes a state championship for both the 12U boys and 12U girls earned last weekend.
Congratulations are in order for all the players and coaches.
The recent success is indicative of the growth and success that youth baseball and softball has enjoyed here for years. Both the Freeman Summer Rec program and Canistota/Freeman Sticks baseball has cultivated a strong interest in the game, and a commitment from families, that has resulted in success. It has also sparked a discussion about building a new youth ballpark complex that does justice to the kind of participation this community has seen going back a decade.
And, in fact, the conversation about a new facility has been serious.
Last year the Freeman City Council pledged $125,000 toward new ballfields, and the Freeman School District showed interest in a partnership that could see the complex built on the northeastern portion of its campus — specifically, near the corner of College Street and Stadium Drive.
Still, despite an apparent commitment from both of those key entities, the project has yet to get off the ground despite years-worth of both public and private conversations and apparent universal support for the effort.
So, what’s it going to take to finally get this important project off the ground?
Well, somebody is going to have to step up.
One of the questions that has loomed largest since these conversations began is, whose project is this?
Does it belong to the city since the city has made a financial commitment?
The school since the grounds sit on the district’s property?
The Freeman Athletic Association since it has much to gain?
Freeman Summer Rec, because it has nurtured the growth?
The easy answer is that it needs to be a partnership, yet that is a complicated prospect. It may be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen.
When it comes right down to it, the entity that appears to be best suited to take a leadership role in this project is Freeman Public Schools, particularly since softball has now been sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, with baseball presumably on the way.
And, in fact, the district appears to be willing to do that.
Superintendent Jake Tietje said the logistics are in place to award facility and/or field naming rights to a large donor if and when that person steps up, and the district has also taken a lead on preliminary work regarding design. It only makes sense that Freeman Public needs to drive the conversation forward.
Of course, the district is in the middle of another building project — The Hangar, a $1.1 million wrestling/multi-use facility built east of the elementary school gym that is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. But with everything in order and on schedule with that, it’s time to turn attention toward youth ballfields once again and bring that back into the public eye.
This is not critisism of the Freeman School District or anybody else, for that matter, but rather a reminder that this is a project that would unquestionably benefit youth athletics, families and the community of Freeman as a whole. A new ballfield complex would all but guarantee major tournaments in this community, which would bring hundreds of people to town which would, in turn, support the local economy.
Especially with the city’s generous offer to provide $125,000 in seed money, this is a no-brainer.
So let’s get this done through public and transparent conversations, a unified spirit and the generous support of a community that has a strong history of getting behind projects that benefit families, children, and the town as a whole.
Our youth softball and baseball teams have shown a commitment to the game and the program that has paid dividends.
It’s time for Freeman to do the same for them.
Those who would like to contribute to the project are asked to contact Tietje directly by calling or texting 605-572-8117.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher