This is the question that lies at the heart of the debate over whether or not to allow the Union County High School varsity girls softball and varsity boys baseball teams to practice exclusively at the complex. Currently, the teams practice there the day before a game and three days before the start of the season. The rest of the time, the girls practice at South Hills and the boys at Union County Stadium.
The members of the teams, their families and other supporters want the teams the be able to practice exclusively at the complex and who can blame them. It is a magnificent facility, a showcase for the county that impresses anyone who visits it. Also, as the spokespersons for the teams pointed out to Union County Council last Thursday, practicing there has a positive impact on team performance and gives them a great home field advantage.
Their enthusiasm for the complex extends beyond practice and play. The spokespersons said the teams are willing to work both before and after their games to help maintain the complex.
Given all this it would seem the obvious course of action for council is to allow the teams to practice exclusively at the complex as well as play there. Things are not that simple, however, because the complex, according to Supervisor Tommy Sinclair, was built primarily to generate revenue for the county by attracting traveling baseball and softball tournaments.
Tourism — sports and otherwise — is a major part of our local economy and the more attractions we have to bring in tourists means money coming into Union County. That means more customers and profits for local restaurants, motels, convenience and other stores which in turn means more jobs and more tax revenue, all of which we need. The complex is a major attraction and therefore a major generator of the kinds of economic activity this county needs more of.
Given this reality, the logical course of action would seem to be council not allowing the teams to practice exclusively at the complex and instead focus on attracting more tournaments. Once again, however, things are not so simple; because winning softball and baseball teams can bring championships, positive publicity and, yes, tournaments to the communities they play for, especially if those communities have a facility like the complex.
Yes, the first priority of council must be determining how best to serve the long-term needs of the people of Union County. That means doing anything and everything in its power to promote economic opportunity, activity and growth that will generate the profits, jobs and tax revenues this county so desperately needs. In the case of the complex, that means focusing on what will maximize its role as an attraction for tourists and tournaments and a generator of revenue for both the private and public sectors.
At the same time, however, council is the servant of the people of Union County and must do everything in its power to be responsive to their desires. That includes helping our softball and baseball teams realize their potential as teams, as individuals and as members of the community.
The goal of Union County Council in this debate should be striking the balance between the dreams and aspirations of our young athletes, their families and supporters and the long-term economic needs of this county. It will not be easy, but council must come up with a formula that achieves this balance. If they do so — and we’re hoping and praying they do — then our athletes will have the playing field opportunities they desire; the county will get additional manpower for field maintenance; the tournaments and the revenue they bring will continue to be attracted into the county; and the Timken Sports Complex will achieve its maximum potential as an asset, resource and showcase for Union County.