Full Statement of WBS and SHS Re the LLS Renovation Project
Westport Baseball & Softball (WBS) and Staples High School Baseball (SHSB) have been closely following and observing with much interest the deliberations and decision-making process of the Long Lots Elementary School Building Committee (the Committee) as well as the debate that has ensued regarding utilization of the land that comprises the Long Lots School property and the status of the Community Gardens located thereon (the Gardens). We are the only two town-operated baseball programs in Westport. While there have been views and preferences attributed to “Westport Baseball” and considerable conjecture regarding our views, neither WBS nor SHSB has been formally contacted to date by the Committee, the Board of Education, Westport government officials or Parks and Recreation, and neither organization has stated publicly any position regarding the Long Lots Elementary School and the surrounding land.
For the record, neither WBS nor SHSB has any interest in, or has ever proposed, removing, replacing or otherwise displacing the Gardens from their current location. This note is being submitted to present our joint position with respect to the baseball field located at Long Lots and the Community Gardens, and to respond to unfounded criticisms and speculation regarding such position. We welcome the opportunity to be included in the discussion going forward.
By way of background, WBS is a Connecticut non-profit organization led by volunteers that offers baseball and softball programs to Westport children who are ages 3 through 19. These programs include Little League Baseball, Little League Softball, Travel Baseball, Babe Ruth Baseball, Legion Baseball, Advanced Baseball and our cherished Challenger program. SHSB fields three teams—a freshman, junior varsity and varsity team. As with Westport’s superior schools and associated support services, Westport’s diverse offering of sports and recreation programs, including baseball, attracts families to our town. As explained below, the repeated references to the surfeit of baseball fields in Westport by participants in the discussions regarding a baseball field at Long Lots is not only not true, but completely misses the point.
The numbers of players for each of the WBS baseball programs identified above varies each season and year. This fluctuation occurs for a variety of reasons. For example, grade sizes vary, children cease playing sports, switch sports or favor a sport in its primary season, but switch sports in that sport’s traditional offseason. Players also leave our programs to play on teams operated by third party for-profit AAU organizations. Nevertheless, program leaders need to plan in advance before each Spring and Summer season for organizing and launching their programs. This work includes budgeting, resource allocation and scheduling of organized baseball activities on fields. It is a red herring to try to project and prescribe the number of players across WBS’s various programs. SHSB can more easily estimate the number of players on each of its teams, and it consistently fills rosters for all three of the aforementioned teams.
Scarcity of Fields
These WBS and SHSB programs have distinct needs and serve different baseball and softball audiences, and the participants play on different size fields based on age and league/division. Westport has baseball fields in three sizes: (i) 46/60 foot, 50/70 foot and 60/90 foot dimensions. Little League baseball and Travel baseball players up to age 12 can play on the 46/60 foot field; Intermediate (50/70), a Little League baseball program, and Travel baseball players up to age 13 play on the 50/70 diamond and Travel baseball (potentially 13U, 14U and 15U teams), Babe Ruth, Legion Baseball and Advanced Baseball players on WBS teams and high school players on SHSB teams play on the 60/90 field. Our Babe Ruth, Legion, Advanced Baseball and SHSB teams are not private “Travel” teams, which have been criticized in this Long Lots debate, and WBS’s Travel baseball programs are town operated and non-profit. Westport has four 60/90 fields—Doubleday, Staples, Wakeman and Long Lots. There is ONE 60/90 field intended to be exclusive to baseball, Wakeman D Field. However, even that field now hosts lacrosse practices in the outfield during the week. Further, the Staples field on which our highly regarded and successful high school team plays is also not exclusive to baseball. Staples is permitted to erect a temporary fence for a prescribed period of time during the Spring and Summer seasons. During the remainder of the year, the outfield is used for soccer and other sports. Doubleday and Long Lots fields are mixed use—shared by baseball and other sports. In summary, WBS alone (without including SHSB) has up to five teams with approximately 70-80 players sharing one field (Wakeman) in the Fall. This is untenable from a scheduling perspective.
In the Spring/Summer, WBS has up to four teams (approximately 65-75 players) that play on the three full size fields. During the high school baseball portion of the season, the varsity SHBS team practices at Staples and the junior varsity SHBS team practices at Wakeman (43 players played on the varsity and junior varsity teams this past Spring), while the freshman SHBS team (18 players this past Spring) will be relegated to finding their way to Long Lots presumably on foot. Given that the focus of the debate is on the Long Lots baseballfield, an explanation of its current use is important. The baseball diamond is carved out on only a fraction of the available space, with the rest of the area lined for soccer. Soccer goals can be found in the outfield. For most of the day (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), this open space is exclusively used by the students who attend Long Lots. After 3:00 p.m., it is used for after-school activities. Only from 4:15 p.m. to dark (as early as 6:30 p.m.) does Parks and Recreation determine which town program shall have access to the field.
As any baseball fan can attest, it is also worth noting that in its current form, the Long Lots baseball field is deficient. It suffers from, among other things, disproportionate dimensions between left and right field and a steep drop-down beyond center field to the lower fields and lacks dugouts and adequate space on the sidelines. Nevertheless, the alternative is (i) asking parents or hiring buses to drive in peak traffic to other towns’ fields that can be as far as 90 minutes away and (ii) disproportionately foregoing the home field and last at bats advantage.
We need a field for these older players. Attempting to discredit the usage of a grass field because of the lines drawn on it is akin to discrediting a classroom based on the subject being taught in it. This is unfortunately what has occurred in certain of the dialogue regarding a Long Lots baseball field and the Gardens.
The current configuration of the “upper” (baseball and soccer) and “lower” (soccer) fields at Long Lots Elementary.
Scheduling; Domino Effect
Westport is already suffering from tremendous field stress given the paucity of fields available to the various Westport sports programs. The existing fields are carefully rationed by Parks and Recreation before each season at a meeting among the leaders of the various Westport sports. This meeting follows months of considered thought and planning by Parks and Recreation leaders regarding how to allocate and share fields among the various sports programs. WBS and SHSB collaborate closely with Parks and Recreation and the other sports programs regarding these scheduling and field utilization endeavors to share access to our town’s fields.
By contrast to when many of us grew up, historically seasonal sports are now played outdoors year-round and three of the four seasons outdoors. In other words, Westport children play baseball and lacrosse in the Fall, and soccer players play in the Spring as well. We can debate the pros and cons of this evolution, but it is the reality. Westport’s town and high school teams are competing against local and national for-profit AAU programs that compose a $19 billion youth sports industry in the U.S. Many of our AAU opponents ironically lack equivalent access to fields that other towns enjoy such that town teams including Westport would have the opportunity and advantage to host these games if a field was available.
Full-year participation in sports with the goal of improving and excelling at a sport is also fueled by many students’ desire to play sports at the collegiate level including to gain admission to a better academic school in a highly competitive college admissions environment. In addition, the offering of athletic scholarships has helped many families carry the financial burden of affording college. These players need fields on which to practice and compete.
The loss of access to the Long Lots fields during the contemplated construction is already going to make a daunting scheduling and field sharing challenge for Parks and Recreation and Westport sports program leaders nearly impossible. The permanent loss of a full-size field cannot happen. It will make it virtually infeasible for the Westport baseball teams to practice and play games at home in the Fall (when the earlier setting of the sun and later dismissal from school for younger age players already limits availability of fields to a few precious hours), render Spring play exceedingly challenging and will leave the SHSB freshman team homeless if home games are scheduled on the same days as the Staples junior varsity and varsity teams or forced to play on the road.
Similarly, a domino effect vis-à-vis other Westport sports will occur, and it will, for example, severely impair the ability of Westport Soccer Association (WSA) to operate soccer practices and games in the Spring. A displaced team will, in turn, displace another team, which will displace another and so on and so forth, ultimately creating acrimony between teams and among Westport sports programs, ending only when the last domino falls on the sports teams deemed the least worthy of standing. It will impact the larger Westport sports community which has broad membership.
We strongly believe that there is a crucial link between youth sports and children's mental and physical well-being. The social, psychological, emotional and medical benefits to children being outdoors and participating on a team sport with friends are well documented. Our recent experience during the COVID outbreak highlighted the importance of offering our children these opportunities. For example, we have learned that when the pandemic shut down social activities for children, the proportion of mental health-related emergency room visits increased by 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for adolescents ages 12 to 17, respectively. The growing prevalence of dependence on cell phones and playing video games makes involvement in team sports even more beneficial.
The plantings at, and maintenance of, the Gardens are similarly outdoor activities with team building aspects that provide countless benefits to the caretakers of the Gardens and the community. Once again, WBS and SHSB do not seek to disrupt or displace the Gardens. We simply want to retain the availability of a full-size field.
Our town’s population continues to grow, with families or parents aspiring to raise families, driving that growth. These families are attracted to Westport for its schools and their diverse offerings inside and outside of the school building. This population applies pressure on schools to accommodate larger populations. Our outdoor space available to our children for sports and other recreational activities should not contract in the face of this growth.
Upper left: Field Day at LLS with bouncy castle on baseball field; Upper right: Sliding down to the “upper field”; Lower left: baseball gets its turn on the field; Lower right: parents enjoy watching a youth soccer match. Note: this “upper field” would be eliminated and not replaced under Plan C-ALT.
The benefits to children continue long after elementary school. Participating in youth team sports teaches children many skills including socialization, sportsmanship, collegiality, discipline, teamwork and collaboration to achieve a common goal and offers them many advantages as they grow and become young adults. We have already discussed that excelling at a sport and competing at the highest levels can help high school students gain admission to college (perhaps even a better academic institution) and mitigate the financial challenges families encounter to fund tuition.
Our understanding is that a full-size baseball field requires at least six acres to properly design and situate it. There are scant parcels of available land of this size, especially near Staples to provide a logistically convenient baseball home for the SHSB freshman team, to provide an alternative situs for a baseball field. The cost to purchase such a parcel of land would be exorbitant. WBS and SBHS are open to learning of other locations for a field in lieu of Long Lots that is available now or no later than the commencement of the anticipated construction at Long Lots Elementary School.
Elementary School Student Use
It is also our understanding anecdotally that the field space at Long Lots was originally donated with the intent that the space would be used for athletics and recreation for children. Perhaps this was in recognition of the aforementioned benefits to children of participating in outdoor sports. But team baseball play at the current Long Lots field, which has commanded considerable attention in the commentary regarding the best outcome for the space, constitutes only a small fraction of its use. In the Fall, for example, Westport soccer appropriately has priority for the upper and lower fields at Long Lots.
Our outstanding elementary schools are fortunate to benefit from expansive outdoor grounds where gym classes are taught, recess is enjoyed, after-school activities are conducted, playdates, picnics and Field Day are held and team sports are played. By comparison, the Kings Highway and Saugatuck Elementary Schools, which border each other, share about 8.5 acres of open space, including the playground, fully turfed PJ Romano field, tennis courts, baseball and softball diamonds, in addition to the football and lacrosse fields. Coleytown Elementary School features 3.5 acres that are home to two playgrounds and a basketball court in addition to the smaller size baseball and softball fields. Greens Farms Elementary School offers 2 acres of open grass space used for baseball and other sports with extended access until mid-evening feasible because of the recent addition of outdoor lights, a basketball court and a playground.
On the other hand, Long Lots Elementary School has a two-tiered field complex, consisting of 2.75 acres on the upper level where the baseball diamond is cut into about a quarter of the grass, surrounded by multiple soccer fields, and the playground and basketball court are separate from the field area being discussed. We have already noted the shortcomings of the existing Long Lots baseball field. Construction of a new Long Lots Elementary School on the upper level would supplant the full-size baseball field and building a new full-size field on the lower level would displace the soccer fields which are already heavily utilized. Eliminating the baseball field at Long Lots will exacerbate the field stress that WBS and SHSB are already enduring, and will severely impact the operation of other sports programs in town for Westport children as discussed above.
But these consequences pale in comparison to the impact on the students, families and neighbors of the Long Lots Elementary School community, which would be deprived of the current green space adjacent to the school where the baseball field is situated for the uses discussed above, which already is inferior to the verdant open space available at the other Westport elementary schools.
False Narrative; Conclusion
The narrative of “Westport Baseball” versus the Community Gardens is a manufactured narrative that has engendered much passion and acrimony. Neither WBS nor SHSB has requested that the Long Lots baseball field be relocated anywhere, including to the current location of the beloved Gardens. It is counterproductive and divisive to pit “Westport Baseball” or any other Westport sport against the Gardens and vice versa even if the perception is that the priorities and preferences of the groups differ and that they are necessarily competing for the same physical real estate. It is especially disconcerting when the leadership of WBS and SHSB have never been formally approached for a discussion or even asked for its views. Further, WBS is not conspiring with the WSA to replace or relocate the Gardens. WSA posted its thoughtful views earlier this month on this blog.
The characterization of Plan C-ALT exemplifies this effort to be provocative. “Plan C-ALT would allow the garden to remain at the expense of Long Lots’ baseball diamond." The actual narrative should be that Plan C-ALT would allow the Gardens to remain at the expense of eliminating nearly half of the existing precious open space at Long Lots. As explained above, while Westport’s baseball and soccer programs would certainly suffer if the field was eliminated, the primary losers here would be the children who attend Long Lots Elementary School and their families and neighbors of Long Lots.
WBS’s and SHSB’s only objective is to not sacrifice one of Westport’s full-sized baseball fields for all the reasons discussed above. We do not require that the field be located anywhere on the Long Lots property. But if the field is to be eliminated at Long Lots, then we respectfully request that a new full-size field be built in close proximity to Staples. Open space for sports fields in Westport is already highly limited and neither WBS nor SHSB is aware of an alternative situs for a full-size baseball field that would serve the needs of the members of their respective communities. We do not want to lose the field and be dismissed with a promise to find space in the future for a construction project and capital expenditure that needs to be planned and budgeted over many years. We need it now, and the construction of a new Long Lots Elementary School will exacerbate an already challenging situation for Westport baseball and other sports.
WBS’s and SHSB’s official joint position is that we support any plan that the Committee proposes that maintains the current open space at Long Lots Elementary School and ensures that we continue to have access to a full-size baseball field whether built at Long Lots or a suitable alternative location meeting the criteria described above. And to reiterate, we admire and respect what the gardeners have achieved on the grounds of the Gardens and in the Westport community more broadly over the past twenty years. We hope that the Gardens are preserved and remain for generations to come.
We expect that WBS, SHSB, the Gardens, and perhaps anyone who enjoys the outdoors have a shared interest in preserving and, in fact, seeking out and allocating, more open green spaces in Westport. WBS and SHSB defer to the considered judgment of the Committee, with continued input from the Board of Education, Long Lots Elementary School leadership and parents, the Gardens and Westport’s sports programs leaders, and its determination as to the future of the Gardens and where to resituate the baseball field. We kindly ask for access to the formal discussion, dialogue and collaboration to identify and implement a solution that achieves these goals rather than resigning ourselves to concluding it cannot happen and engaging in polarizing and unproductive rhetoric.
Welcome to our Westport Little League Baseball website!
Welcome to our Westport Little League Baseball (WLLB) website. You will find information on baseball for ages 5-12 here. WLLB is a subdivision of Westport Baseball & Softball, Inc. (WBS) which also oversees Softball, Travel Baseball (ages 8-15), and Advanced Baseball (ages 16-19). Please see the links above for information on these programs. Feel free to send us suggestions on the site and on our programs via the "Feedback" page on our Main Menu.