County should welcome public stepping up to plate

A plan by a northern Beaufort County group to start a nonprofit organization to help the county Parks and Leisure Services department address problems with its youth sports programs is a productive beginning. So is the PALS advisory board's receptiveness to the idea.

But these are merely beginnings.

And if we sound like a wet blanket, that's because many of the complaints registered by members of the Facebook group "It's Time for a Change With Beaufort PALS" have been registered by parents since before there was such a thing as Facebook, or even widespread Internet access.

In fact, Dixie Youth Baseball coach Robert Gecy -- who started the Facebook group and is working with an attorney to form the nonprofit organization -- is steeped in this. His father, Bob, witnessed similar dissatisfaction firsthand, as both a coach and a PALS board chairman in the early 1990s, when Robert was a young ballplayer.

Back then, parents complained about shoddy, ill-fitting, late-arriving uniforms; facilities in poor repair; scheduling snafus. ... Today, parents complain about shoddy, ill-fitting, late-arriving uniforms; facilities in poor repair; scheduling snaufs. ...

There is a historical underpinning to these disputes. It is traceable to a time when the city of Beaufort had its own recreation department -- perceived to run like a Swiss watch strapped above the iron fist of its longtime director, the late Basil Green -- while unincorporated Beaufort County had its Recreation Commission -- perceived to be the provider of recreational activities for a rural, largely underprivileged population.

Those perceptions might have been over-simplifications, but they persisted after the county absorbed the city's recreation department. People who wanted higher-quality programs for their children tussled with those who said such programs are unaffordable on a government budget, or would price underprivileged children out of the games.

Scholarships offered by nonprofit and volunteer groups in several sports and in several places around Beaufort County demonstrate government isn't the only organization with concern for the disadvantaged. Gecy already is talking about ways a new nonprofit organization would subsidize participants from low-income families.

By the same token, parent groups supporting baseball have come and gone in northern Beaufort County without changing much. Gecy says -- correctly -- that the PALS staff and PALS board seem more cooperative than ever before, and that the challenge now is to engage more volunteers and keep them active.

That hasn't happened in the past for several reasons. Among them is that PALS never seems willing to entirely relinquish control to volunteers; and for their part, volunteers sometimes find providing a service is more difficult than complaining about one.

This is where Basil Green's example is instructive: Quality programs require a notion of what "quality" really is and an unbending will to achieve it.

Properly energized, a volunteer group will run a youth sports league better than government, and PALS should step aside if such a group seeks to take charge.

However, minus volunteers' willingness and government's concession, Robert Gecy's little ballplayer will be embroiled in the same arguments 20 years from now that his grandfather was 20 years ago.