The Conway City Council has stepped to the plate and made good contact, but it's late in the game and rally caps are needed.
The city has arranged to purchase the YBMA Fairgrounds and will take over the youth baseball program.
More than a few curveballs are coming.
Sorting through some myths and realities:
MYTH: The YBMA program is a bad program.
Certainly not. This is a program that has provided generations of youngsters their first baseball glove, their first uniform and some of their first tastes of sports competition. It was a pioneer program decades ago and hundreds of people have worked diligently through the years to provide a fun experience, many purely because they love kids and they love baseball.
The motive from the beginning was simple - to introduce youngsters to baseball and give everyone a chance to enjoy the experience. Some good ballplayers cut their teeth on the YBMA program. More importantly, some not-so-good ones had a lot of fun. It's amazing folks have kept the program going considering the facilities.
REALITY: The YBMA facilities are an embarrassment, particularly for a growing city like Conway.
Some of the benches, dugouts and buildings, which are still actively used, are like museum pieces.
Most were built by volunteer labor, but they are old and weathered.The last major renovation and construction of ballfields and buildings, done by many manhours of volunteers, occurred in the mid-1980s.
And some of these fields are not just used by youth leagues. High school teams and Central Baptist College teams have played there. That has added to the wear and tear.
Conway's facilities are not in the ballpark with much smaller towns and communities.
MYTH: The problem is solved.
It's only a key first step. City officials cannot wave a wand and make everything right. There is a lot of work and development ahead.
What the city council did last week should have been done at least five years ago, maybe 10. It was not done because of a complex series of factors, included a defeated bond issue that would have provided funds for recreational development.
The council, faced with a demand by the public to make things better, was between the rock and the hard place: Take over the existing situation, channel major funds into it and make it as good as possible OR spend about $2 million (maybe more depending on the cost of the land) for a new but smaller complex.
This action buys some time for some long-range planning.
The first key in the development of any complex is acquiring land. The YBMA land, plus the basic structures and foundation for development, was available for a bargain price.
REALITY: The female factor will have to be part of the equation.
Several years ago, because of the lack of facilities for a rapidly growing girls softball program and the need to offer fast-pitch competition, a grassroots movement led to the creation of the Youth Softball Association of Conway.
Softball used to be part of the YBMA program but played on some of the worst fields with no place for practices.
YSAC developed its own program and leases UCA's Farris Complex for play. The number of strong high school girls teams in recent years in the city and county is a testament to how well that program has developed players. Space for both play and practice is still needed.
MYTH: It will now be easy to develop youth programs that meet all needs.
There's a natural philosophical tension in all youth programs nowadays.
On one hand, you have the philosophy that these are games, they should be fun for all, winning is not the primary goal, everybody should play almost equally and sports should be offered for pure recreational and team-building benefits. That's perfect for a lot of kids, possibly the majority as they move from one interest to another in their youth.
There's also a need to offer more competitive programs for more skilled players, who want a more serious approach. Those with the ability and the motivation and the support group to play more scoreboard-oriented games (and a lot more games) desire an outlet to further develop their skills for high school play and beyond.
It's just like soccer, where some youngsters prefer recreational leagues; others classic or competitive leagues.
In recent years, Conway has lost several players to surrounding communities, particularly Maumelle, which offers competitive leagues for independent teams and furnish them with both fine facilities and practice space.
Enhancing a program and facilities that can address recreational needs, competitive and developmental needs plus accommodating girls teams will be a major, major challenge.
The process is even trickier considering Conway is already way behind most communities of its size.
What has been done is a major first step toward a quality program for a community that seems to be getting younger every day.
While Conway officials are off and running, first base is still a few strides away.