Controversy has been growing on the football field and over the airwaves in Pell City.

Since the Pell City youth football organization began charging admission to games, many parents, grandparents and fans have been questioning why the league has been charging admission to a non-school, extracurricular activity. Others say that because the money goes directly back into the program to benefit the kids, that they don’t have a problem being charged a parking or gate fee.

Pell City Parks and Recreation interim director Harold “Bubba” Edge, Jr. wants fans to know that the money is not going into his department’s budget and that it was Mid-State Youth Football Association that set the admission price.

“The biggest thing that people don’t know is that we’re not collecting the money,” Edge said. “We’re not depositing the money. We don’t want the money. The money is being collected by the parents.”

Edge said that money could then be used to get training items for the youth league, such as tackling or blocking dummies and sleds.

Many of the other areas where the young gridiron athletes travel to games charge admission for fans. Mid-State voted in June to charge entrance fees. All parks agreed to charge $4 for adults, $2 for children 6-12, while kids 5 and under get in free.

While that is a nominal cost for some fans, others are crying fowl.

Former Pell City Mayor Adam Stocks, who owns and operates the AM radio Station WFHK, opened up the call lines on Monday to hear what people had to say about charging admission to youth games.

Stocks, who has four boys, that include his son Jackson, who plays in the city’s 95-pound league, said he thinks that charging admission is wrong, especially in a down economy.

“I think it’s ridiculous that parents and grandparents have to pay a fee to come into a public park to watch their children play,” Stocks said. “We took two hours on air [Monday] morning from people calling in and we didn’t have one person calling in that liked it. One grandmother called up and she has to stay at home each week—with two or three kids—while mom and dad with several other kids in the family and her husband get to go to the games. Then the next week, she’ll switch with her husband and she’ll go to the game.”

The former mayor continued, “It’s ridiculous when you have parents, grandparents and siblings having to miss football games because they can’t get into a public park. The city has to revisit this. I had a policy where no one had to pay to get in when I was in office. That is a city park and it’s probably too late to do anything about it this year; but the football board and the city need to look at this again.”

Edge countered that position. “A lot of people have been giving us grief,” he said and added that he’s fielded questions from probably 75 concerned citizens. “They (Mid-State) set the prices. What our mayor (Bill Hereford) has done makes a lot of sense to me. We’re not collecting it nor are we keeping it or depositing it. All the money is being collected and it goes back to the youth football funds.”

Current Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford has put forth another moneymaking incentive where concessions will be run by parents of youth organized sports, instead of being bid out with a 10 percent return to city.

“What [Hereford] wants is to let the sports people run their own concessions and the money goes to that specific sport,” Edge said. “We won’t want it. All we’re going to do is furnish the facilities and the power and the fields. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about it. People think that we’re collecting money or volunteering to collect it here at Parks and Rec. It all goes to [the teams] and at the end of the year they can decide what they want to do with it. Their football board has some very levelheaded guys running it. They’re even talking about next year reducing the cost of the kids to play ball. They could be buying better uniforms or supplementing costs with the money or buying equipment to work with. It’s a very good cause. When we go to these other parks everybody wonders why do they have these sleds and blocking dummies.”

The youth football board of directors is currently trying to get a non-profit, 501-C3 status to help with keeping their funds balanced under the Pell City Youth Football Association.

Football board member Bruce Foster said that the five-member board is currently serving in an advisory capacity until next year, when it takes over duties from the city.

“Bubba has always taken into consideration all of our issues and we’ve helped in the decision making process,” Foster said. He said that the way things will be lined up next year will be similar to the other areas where the kids play football.

“Ever park—and most of all the parks I know of—are set up similar to the way we’ll be next year,” Foster said. “They have very limited financial involvement… It’s a custom to do this because the league that we’re in set the price.”

Foster, whose son plays on 11-12-year-old, 135-pound league, has been coaching baseball and football for seven years.

He noted that all of the money being collected at the gate would go to the football program. “Next year when the city’s involvement ends for the players, buying the uniforms and things like that will go to the board. The board will determine what the uniforms will be and what they’ll look like and what we’ll charge. At this point the monies being collected will pay for all of our officials. We were pretty much mandated that this would happen. We’re actually at a benefit for the football teams because we’ve been able to pay for our officials every week. We will be able to buy blocking dummies and things like that. Anything having to do with the park itself will come from city.”

All coaches currently get into the park free with coaching passes, players and cheerleaders get in free, too.

“It gives us the opportunity to maintain the great fields and premises,” Edge said. “Let the parents and the coaches take the responsibility and the city take some responsibility.”

When the changes go into effect next year, having leagues take over concession stands to raise even more funds for their sports is something that the current Pell City Parks and Recreation overseers are looking into. Currently concession stands are bid out and 10-percent of money raised goes to the park department.

Former mayor Stocks maintains that the $70 paid by league participants should be allow for fans to enter the park to watch games, since the Parks and Rec budget is currently set at $1.2 million.

“What’s more important? That grandma and grandpa and mom and dad can watch football on Saturdays or that the team can have tackling dummies,” Stocks said. “You want the family to come and watch football and families can’t do that; especially with the economy the way it is and having an unemployment rate in St. Clair County at 10 percent. Whatever monies they are going to be able to generate at the gate is going to add up to half of one percent of [Parks and Recreation’s] budget. I don’t think it justifies keeping families from watching football.”

Stocks used the example of his family traveling to a Mid-State game and how a one-day trip can set a family’s budget back tens of dollars.

“Later in October, we’ll have to play Tri-county in Tuscaloosa on a Saturday when Alabama is hosting Tennessee,” Stocks said. “What should be an hour and a half drive will turn into a two and a half to three hour drive and we’ll have to pay $12 to get in and eat out while on the road. That’s one family on the team. In today’s economy I think that it’s a bad idea and I think it’s something that will have to be revisited. This is hurting our parks and rec. It is hurting our parents and grandparents. All the sports are funded by the city. If there’s something that’s needed out there, it should be up to them.”

Stocks has also coached youth sports and he says that budgeting comes with the territory. “If you need equipment, we buy it. When you coach, that’s just part of coaching, you take on that responsibility as a coach that if you need equipment, it’s your responsibility.”

Foster maintained that it is Mid-State that set the rules.

“This got sprung on us and we did not know this was going to happen until a week or so before the season happened,” Foster said. “But at this point we’re doing well. Every person that I’ve told that this money is going to go back into the Pell City Football Youth Organizations has been fine with this. I’ve had some people come up and say ‘If it’s going back to the kids, why not charge $10?’ Well, we can’t do that because Mid-State set the price.”

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