Friday, March 20, 2009

Four Friends, One Vision and a Miracle for Our Deteriorating Parks: A Non-Profit Begins in San Pedro With One Mission in Mind -- Starting Small and Rescuing One Sports Facility at a Time – Beginning With Local Baseball Diamonds ; If This Vision Works, This San Pedro-Charged Group Could Mean a Field of Dreams for All of Los Angeles

By Diana L. Chapman

With our Los Angeles parks falling fallow, a recession that seems ugly enough for the city to go after taxpayers for more cash and a crush of kids who still want to play ball, it’s a homer of a thing that two fathers, a former teacher and a team mom stepped up to the plate in San Pedro.

So far, they’ve been hitting homeruns -- quietly mending ruined baseball diamonds in the background of San Pedro while an ongoing, ugly battle resumes over the temporary – perhaps permanent location -- for the once-homeless Eastview Little League.

Despite the fierce warring, that’s an issue this group tries not to focus on.

Instead, they’ve raised at least $8,000 plus and gone about repairing and rehabilitating beaten down baseball diamonds. In the past year, the group quietly redid Peck Park ball fields, added awnings and shades, reopened the snack shack and reduced playing costs from $100 to $80 per player.

But they hope to do more—with long term goals of fixing not just baseball diamonds, but many other facilities, such as gyms, soccer fields and basketball courts. Soon, Bogdanovich’s players hopefully will see the last of bumpy fields and splintering benches.

“My heart is for the kids and there are many parents who just can't afford it,” explained John Delgado, who said most city fees to play ball start at $80. “The fields were falling apart and it just didn’t seem fair.

“We brought it (Peck) back to life.”

For this we should applaud the foursome, which included John, now the president of Central’s Neighborhood Council, his side kick, Mark Aariola, a team mom, Robin Gregg, and a former school teacher, Frank Anderson. They are looking for more volunteers to come and hit home-runs with them. Another resident, Allen Quinten, has also joined the force.

Using the former title of a group that was launched in the 1970s but had languished with time, John and his team injected new life into the San Pedro Youth Sports Association (SPYSA). The new crew turned it into a non-profit, with the blessing of its original founders, including Quinten’s father, and started to raise money by visiting both North West and Central Neighborhood Councils and holding fundraisers.

Working deals with the city – they offered packages difficult for Los Angeles to refuse in this dragging economy – and has launched one of the first successful partnerships which city recreation and park officials have long avoided in the past.

“They’ve been really doing a good job,” said Deanne Dedmon, the Los Angeles city recreational supervisor for the Harbor area region. “They are very open and easy going and they keep us in the loop about everything.”

This group should not be confused with the San Pedro Youth Coalition, another non-profit fighting to nurture organized sports in the Harbor Area that has aided East View in its long running plight. The league lost its original home at the former DiCarlo Bakery site and were forced out when Target purchased the property and opened a store.

Many non-profits and volunteers in the past have tried to pass muster through the parade of city warriors and collaborate, but often city bureaucrats intensely resisted.

John believes the reason for their success thus far stems from the spiraling economy, which left the city little choice but to collaborate or allow for more parks to fall to ruin.

Mark, who was the other father who pulled this program together agreed that in the city didn’t want to “work with us at first.”

“We had to step in and give the things that Rec and Parks can no longer afford to give our kids,” he explained, who added the group has no intention of stopping their good deeds at the door step of San Pedro. “We are trying to help lower prices…and are gearing for the football season.”
Its board members plan to expand from repairing baseball fields to all sports facilities. They hope to leapfrog later to Wilmington and – if met with continued success – use their resources to fix ailing sports facilities across Los Angeles.

In the meantime, as the East View battle continues to rage about whether to have East View remain atop Los Angeles Port-owned Knoll Hill or turn it into open parklands appears – where Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn promised it a temporary home for three years – heads possibly toward compromise.

John is on the Central Neighborhood Council steering committee studying uses there as is Phil Trigas, who agreed that the Knoll Hill will meet the needs for both open-park land and ball fields. “The design needs for both can me bet. And it’s going to be a public facility,” Phil predicted. “We are hoping Janice (Los Angeles Councilwoman Hahn) will compromise.”

Hahn has urged the Central Council and port officials to allow the league to remain there, as other potential homes for the league have dwindled. That concept remains controversial, however, as many critics consider the league a private organization that does not serve all children.

As the screaming goes on, the association in the meantime has launched a $2 ticket raffle to restore Bogdanovich’s playing fields, reopen the snack shack, provide awnings – and in the end, by next season, subsidize the city’s $110 rates per player to lower rates so more children can play.

The dream includes only charging $35 per player – in the long run – with the association paying additional costs.

The raffle’s number one prize winner, for a flat screen T.V., will be announced at a pancake breakfast at Peck Park in the auditorium on May 17, a Sunday from 8 to 11 a.m. The winner does not need to be present.

So much has happened since their opening day at Peck Park last April when the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa showed up. Because no press attended, that mayor “could be himself,” John said, “and signed balls for every single player.”

To buy tickets, contact John Delgado via email at: