VIDEO: Dillon County Council Recreation Forum
A Dillon County Council meeting to discuss the recreation situation and other matters was scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday; however, only Councilman Stevie Grice (in person) and Chairman T.F. “Buzzy” Finklea (by phone) were present for the meeting. Since there was no quorum present and a meeting could not take place, a public forum was held to allow concerned parties in attendance a chance to voice their opinions.
By Betsy Finklea
The Dillon County Council will be meeting today (Tuesday) at 5:00 p.m. to discuss recreation and other matters. Recreation has been a hot topic as of late with the realization that the county’s youth football program will cease to exist as the recreation department was recently cut from the county’s budget.
Cutting a department from a budget is never an easy decision, and it wasn’t an easy decision for the Dillon County Council, but it was a necessary one due to shortfalls in the budget. Cuts had to be made somewhere, and the department has been in decline for some time. In recent years, it has only offered youth football as the baseball program went out of existence some time ago. Funds were still set aside for recreation for each municipality with the City of Dillon being designated $50,000, the Town of Latta being designated $15,000, and the Town of Lake View being designated $10,000 for their recreation departments.
The county has been exploring options with the city for a possible takeover of youth football since the county will no longer be offering the program.
The City Council Meeting
At Thursday’s Dillon City Council meeting, youth football was discussed. In his report, Mayor Pro-Tem Dr. Phil Wallace said as big and as important as football is in Dillon, they certainly didn’t want to see that fall away. He said he looked at it as “mutually serving each other.” If we have kids involved in sports in a healthy manner and in a good direction with coaches who are well-vetted role models, it could help keep kids from getting involved in gangs in later years if they gain their trust early and the kids stick with them, Wallace said. He supports anything the council does in making a youth football program a reality.
In his report, City Manager Glen Wagner outlined the proposal. He sent a letter to the Interim County Administrator about the city’s proposal. Wagner came to Dillon in January 1992 as the recreation director to start recreation in the City of Dillon on a full-time basis. He has a passion for recreation. He said if the county is not going to provide the recreation they were providing, it is the city’s responsibility to do so. It is a core service that local governments provide and that the city is already providing in other sports on a full-time basis.
Wagner said the letter breaks down what he thinks the city should do as far as recreation football and how they can do it with a very minimal cost to the city.
First and foremost, Wagner said, the city has a 100-acre sports complex where they play baseball, softball, and soccer. Soccer and football take place at the same time. They would need a place to play football. It’s already there with what the county has on their property, which butts up to the city property. He has asked the county to either donate the land to the city and/or lease the land to the city for 25+ years. One has to own the property or have a long-term lease at a dollar a year to enable them to apply for grants.
The county would also donate any equipment they have on hand for football such as helmets and pads. He looked at what they have, and it seems to be in good condition. If they didn’t, it would be about $200 per player for tackle football. People he has talked to in the industry in the last week or so have told him that if you don’t have helmets and pads right now that you don’t know when you are going to get them because they are hard to come by. The city would also ask the county to include any other equipment they have out there such as blocking dummies, field markers, chains, and down markers. Other equipment requested is two riding Zero-Turn lawnmowers, a three-wheel field conditioner, a Gator utility vehicle, field lights, concessions equipment, and any other field equipment they use as well. He asked that they donate this equipment also or give the city $25,000 a year for the next ten years. He said the county administrator said they don’t have the money to donate. Wagner said if they did, the county would have continued the program. If the city discontinues football, then the land would revert back to the city.
The city offers soccer, volleyball, youth basketball, and youth softball already. They charge $30 registration, but no gate fees for regular season home games. The same would go for football. He said county council is going to meet at 2 p.m. on Friday, and they were going to take up the issue of youth football on their agenda. Wagner said he didn’t need council approval to add football to their program, but he did need council approval on the proposal.
Wagner said on Monday they were putting out flyers for students to begin signing up. They will do 11-12 year old tackle football, 9-10 year-old flag football, and 6-7-8 year-old flag football.
Wagner said there is a decline in kids playing youth sports for whatever reason—lack of interest, lack of funds, other interests, parents not taking the time to get them there. He said they have seen a lot of that since COVID-19 when everything stopped.
Councilman Johnny Eller made the motion, and all in favor voted to move forward. Eller asked that all council members be notified on Friday afternoon as to the county’s decision.
The County Council Forum
At Friday’s what was to be a council meeting, only two people showed up–Councilman Stevie Grice (in person) and Chairman T.F. “Buzzy” Finklea, Jr. (by telephone). A handful of other people also were present including City Manager Glen Wagner. Stevie Grice was appointed acting chairman by Chairman Finklea to conduct the meeting since no other council members were present in person.
Grice said since there was no quorum, there was not enough people present for a meeting. Grice said he would like to state that the City of Dillon voted unanimously to take over the youth football and he reviewed the terms (as stated earlier in this article). Grice said if we are putting kids first as everyone likes to say, he thought it was a no-brainer. He said it would be obvious to vote for this because if the city doesn’t have football, the county would not be because recreation has been cut out of the budget for this year. Grice said he would be voting to do this.
At the suggestion of the County Administrator, Grice said since this was not a meeting, he would let those in attendance speak. Larry German offered some comments. He said he talked to Mr. Wagner and he said he would take the youth football. German said he thought that was great because the kids would still have the opportunity to play football. He asked about what the plans were for the rural areas. He also spoke about AAU. German said a SCAT or SCISA director he talked to said they could play both county football and AAU at the same time as long as they were listed on the county roster. Grice said this was incorrect because they could not be played at the same time because they were both contact sports. German said the recreation director said they could utilize the fields, but made it clear with AAU that they could not interfere with recruiting and were not playing the same time as his rec league, it was fine. The next year, AAU didn’t do what they were required to do, and the recreation director lost his program in numbers. Grice said that is what they had been saying, but the recreation director allowed them to continue to do it.
German said two years ago, the recreation director, German, Grice, and Finklea sat down and discussed the football program two years ago. He said Grice outlined the program and what was expected and not expected, and he and the recreation director agreed to it. He said it was made clear that if he lost the football program, he lost his position. “It was clearly understood,” said German. He said they can’t fault anyone in this building for trying to save the program that the recreation director lost in numbers.
German said he begged the recreation director to allow free registration for the first 100 kids to sign up, and he failed to do that, and they were here trying to save the program that was lost.
Sheriff Douglas Pernell said he was not fully aware of what all was going on, but he has been told a few things and was seeking some answers. Pernell said if the city is taking the program and wants the field if that meant if the county would have to release the property. Grice said it was be leased to them for 25 years to allow them to be able to apply for grants, etc. Pernell asked if the county could not sign up for those same programs. Grice said the city can do it whether they get grants or not. Pernell said why the county couldn’t get grants. Grice said they had gotten some over the years. Pernell asked if anyone had looked into it now. Grice said he didn’t know what exactly they had done into looking into grants. He said the recreation director would be responsible. Grice said he didn’t know what they had done. Pernell said there had been some people who had been in contact that said they would be willing to support the program if they could get some volunteers instead of giving it away. Grice said what are we giving away. Pernell said the land. Grice said personally he didn’t care who ran the program as long as they were doing it right and right now the city has better capabilities of running it and have people in place and aren’t looking for volunteers. He said they can get it going with sign-ups Monday and the county can’t do that. Pernell asked if he was sure that they could do that in two weeks.
Pernell said that he was not throwing any stones at anyone, but he has been out there for 30 years, but no one from the city has been there. He said he realizes that sometimes things have to come to an end, and I understand if the city takes it, it is giving them an option for a place to go. Pernell asked if they could not do a joint effort this year and see if they can do better for next year before they give everything away and turn it all over to the city.
Grice said his opinion was that he had no problem with the AAU. His kids play travel ball. But like Larry said, they (AAU) were going to play when rec ball was over. Then the next year, they played when you are there. They are using our fields, your facilities, your equipment, and everything you have out there, and are taking your players in the process. Grice told Pernell that he didn’t think he was going to let somebody come in his building down there and take his deputies. Pernell said they do it every day. Grice said they don’t do it in your building. He said it was like somebody coming in your house and taking your stuff. He said he wish the AAU players would come and coach rec and build the rec players up and then play after the rec season was over. He said that was what it originally started to be. “Now that is not what it is going on,” Grice said, who noted that they are refereeing the county games. Grice said we are worried about them and these people over here, than worrying about the kids. Pernell said he was not here saying to cut out AAU. Pernell said there are enough kids to play both. Grice said half the kids on AAU are not from Dillon County. Pernell said they need to put more emphasis on getting the kids out there. Grice said whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t been working.
Grice said they haven’t had baseball there in five years. Pernell said then don’t pay them for the whole year. If they are just there for three or four months, then pay them for three or four months. Pernell said we’re just talking. Pernell said he was not saying the city would not do a good job, but he thought before the county just gives it away that maybe they could sit down and work things out.
Grice said they tried to do that two or three years ago as German stated earlier and nothing had changed. Grice said now he thinks they should give somebody else a chance.
Pernell asked if the city had the coaches already. Wagner said no. Pernell said that was all that he had to say.
Kevin Drawhorn, a community activist from Latta, said if they opened it up to volunteers to keep it that he guaranteed they would have people show up. Grice said you have no accountability with volunteers. Drawhorn said find one or two volunteers to be the responsible person. Drawhorn said volunteers would help or to try to do the joint thing with the city. Drawhorn said he believes that there was enough children to run multiple programs.
Grice said we have got to think about these Dillon County kids first. Grice said he believes the city has better capabilities to run the program and that he was going to vote this way. He said it was not like they had a magnificent facility with top of the line equipment. He said we are leasing the land, and they are going to have to put money into it.
Pernell asked what would happen to the country league. Wagner said he would sit down with them like any other group. Wagner said we’re open to everything. Wagner said he thought it was a core value that local governments should offer things for quality of life. He said the only reason the city has not done football was because the county was offering it, and they didn’t want to duplicate the program. He said the organizations who have been using the park are still going to be welcome there, but they would be subject to the same rules and regulations as the city parks.
German said the country league plays 6 weeks out of the year. The County Recreation Department has no affiliation with them until that time. They pay the fee that the county has established.
Grice said they have to worry about the rec football kids first. This is the program the county provides. Everything else is someone who rents the field. He said they are voting about whether to give the lease and the equipment to run the program. He said if they are going to run the football they have got to have somewhere to do it.
Wagner said he has never understood why there have been no lights on the football field unless it was financial reasons. Wagner said the city is going to put lights there and that was the reason for a long-term lease. He said they weren’t going to make that kind of investment and then turn it back over two years later. He said people want convenience and not to be straddled to Saturdays and lights would create more opportunities to play on other days. Wagner said he realized that there were some games playing on the small baseball field. Wagner said this is something they would look to do. These kids need to be treated the same and the facility needs to be the same. He said they also plan to put irrigation there like in there other parks. He said if they were going to invest money in it, then they needed a long-term lease. He said the current coaches are more than welcome to come coach for the city. He said the city is going forward with registration beginning Monday. He said if they don’t get the donation, then they are going forward anyway with flag football because they need the helmets and pads.
Grice said he appreciates what the city is trying to do. He asked why would someone would vote not give these kids the opportunity to have football. He said even if the council votes not to turn this over to the city, the county still can’t provide it because they don’t have the means to do it and it is not in the budget. If we don’t vote for it, we are saying we are not providing football, but he was glad to hear the city will be doing it one way or the other. Grice asked if there was anymore comments. He said this was not a meeting, but a forum.