It’s a story that seems to repeat itself every year...the direction of Yazoo’s parks and recreation.
Many citizens are frustrated with the conditions of the local parks. From basic maintenance to overall operation, some citizens feel it’s time to restore pride within the program.
Others maintain that the program is doing the best it can with limited funds and workers. They would like to see progress made, but the department is currently just trying to stay afloat.
The parks and recreation department operates with an annual budget of $244, 779.
Henry Campbell, parks and recreation director, has an annual salary of $42,000. His crew of one-full time worker and three part-time workers account for about $25,000.
The program also has about $23,000 budgeted for building and ground maintenance.
Equipment repairs and maintenance take about $4,900.
Most of the public criticism involves the Wardell Leach Recreational Complex. The million dollar facility holds four ballfields, a walking track, a swimming pool, a driving range that is also used as soccer fields, a playground and a basketball court.
The condition of the ball fields has garnered the most concern from the community.
“Short and simple, the fields are garbage,” said Courtney Granderson.
“It’s the same battle every year,” added Shane Prescott, posting a photograph of one of the fields. “No upkeep, nothing but weeds. It’s just sad. Go to any other park in the state and at least the grass is green...this is truly a disgrace to the city.”
Many said the fields are “an embarrassment.”
“They are pathetic,” said Shayne Kirk. “I’m embarrassed to have not only our community but other communities see them.”
Some parents said the fields are not only eyesore, but they also pose a danger to the young players.
“I know the two girls fields at the complex are a complete hazard for them to play on,” said Tracie Alexander. “The actual dirt part is brick hard and has only been drug once. That won’t cut it. These children want to play ball but have to be careful so they do not get hurt when sliding, fielding balls and running bases.”
Campbell said that some of the people who are complaining are contributing to the problems, particularly those who insist on practicing on wet fields.
“After it rains, they still push the kids out there to practice,” Campbell said. “That messes the fields up.”
Campbell said his crew does maintain the fields before games.
“We don’t have the staff to go out there and fix the fields for a practice,” he said. “They can practice anywhere. We do go out there a week before they play to tend to it.”
Many parents said rocks on the field are another problem.
“A boy that was playing with us was rounding third base and slipped,” said Kalee Davis. “He cut his arm on a huge rock on the field.”
Campbell said it’s the children who are throwing the rocks out in the field from the dugout areas.
“The Little League parents put the rocks in the dugout area,” Campbell said. “The kids throw them out. I didn’t put those bricks and such out there.”
Campbell said some dirt filled with rocks was donated to the program for one of the girls’ fields.
“We tried to get all the rocks out, but I admit it was donated to us like that,” Campbell said.
Campbell also said many of the injuries caused by the plates could be avoided.
“We need break-away bases out there,” Campbell said. “Kids want to slide, but some don’t know how. Those bases will end up hurting them. I would like to see break-away bases out there. But you have go to find the money.”
Campbell said he does drag and water the fields regularly before games.
Some parents have also complained about the batting cage and other netting around the facility.
“The batting cage net has got to be replaced and not patched again,” Alexander said.
Campbell said the batting cage will be replaced for $1,500.
“But the other netting was put in by the Dixie Youth parents,” Campbell said. “That is not our responsibility.”
The restrooms have also been a heavy complaints from many parents.
“I took my six year old little girl to the bathroom...the best way I can describe it is disgusting,” said Chuck McGinty.
“The bathrooms have alway been an issue,” said Emily Brooks. “No locking stalls, no toilet paper, no soap, and flat out nasty.”
Campbell said he tries his best to keep the restrooms clean. But he said many of the problems come from unsupervised children.
Campbell showed The Yazoo Herald photographs of vandalism that occurred last weekend. Doors were ripped off. Graffiti covered the walls. And the restrooms were trashed.
“I took those photos just this morning, and we have already went out and painted over the spray paint and cleaned it up,” Campbell said. “But I can’t lock the bathrooms up. That is a public park.”
Campbell added that many parents allow their children to litter, adding to the facility’s condition.
“We have never had the money to run these parks,” Campbell said. “These are problems that have been ignored for years. I never start getting complaints until this time of year, and it has always been at Wardell Leach Complex). I can’t put all my time out there. It’s not fair to the other parks.”
Campbell said he also spent the majority of the “offseason” bringing the program’s violations with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries up to code. The city was recently informed that it had failed to maintain requirements at parks that had received grants from MDWFP, including the former tennis courts near Sam Nicholas Field that now serve as a parking lot.
“I had to complete that work to enable us to get grants,” he said. “I spent my whole winter doing that.”
The loss of inmate labor has also hurt the program, Campbell added.
Campbell said he is confident that he is doing the best he can with the resources he has been provided.
“I belive God gave me this job,” Campbell said, holding his hand up. “And I can’t lose it. That is how big my faith is.”