The Fremont Parks and Recreation board reviewed an agreement between the city and the Fremont Nighthawks and Ladyhawks organization at its Tuesday night meeting.
Plans for a proposed park fountain and holiday programming for youth also were discussed at the meeting in the city auditorium building.
Nate Schwanke, recreation superintendent, said the agreement with Fremont Nighthawks and Fremont Ladyhawks will offer the best product for future youth baseball and softball participants.
With the agreement, the city’s recreation department will take over all programming for children ages 6 and younger.
This will involve two separate leagues. The Lil’ Sluggers will be for children ages 4 and 5, who’ve not attended kindergarten yet. The kindergarten league will be for children ages 5 and 6, who’ve already been through kindergarten.
When children are 7 years old, they can participate in the non-competitive leagues in the Nighthawks for baseball and Ladyhawks for softball.
The Nighthawks organization will shuffle its age groups under the mutual agreement. Previously, children ages 6-8 played in Mightyhawks, a non-competitive, machine-pitch league where no scores or team standings were kept. Children ages 8-10 played in Nighthawks’ Colts Baseball, a kid-pitch league with traditional baseball rules modified to teach players the basic fundamentals.
Colts will now consist of children ages 7-9 and 6-year-olds that would have played Mightyhawks will play in the program offered by Parks and Rec.
Schwanke said the plan will stabilize and grow participation in both programs.
“We’ve been losing kids every year. They’re transferring (to Nighthawks) sooner and sooner,” he noted, saying the plan would curb that. “We’ll take the Pre-K and introduce them to T-ball. We’ll take kindergarten and introduce them to coach pitch and then when they go over to Nighthawks and Ladyhawks at 7 years old, they’ll have that exposure. They have a quality program and we’re no longer competing with Nighthawks.”
Schwanke mentioned programs in other communities.
“Norfolk, Papillion, Columbus — all these towns have already turned their city programming over to the independent programs,” Schwanke said. “We’re one of the last ones that offers independent baseball and softball programming at this point.”
Last year, the parks department had between eight and 10 Lil’ Sluggers teams and four kindergarten teams. The plan should provide up to 10 teams for both age groups.
Schwanke pointed out a decline in numbers of participants in programs for older children.
“In our program last year, we had four teams in the first and second grade boys and then in first and second grade girls we had two teams that came each week,” Schwanke said. “We had a little practice and then would split them into two teams and play a game each week. That’s not quality for anybody. We want to make it a quality experience for everybody in Fremont.
“We had to drop the third- and fourth-grade girls (teams) this year, because we didn’t have enough,” he added.
Board chairman Bob Brown asked about costs.
“We charged the same as Nighthawks did for that programming (the Pre-kK and kindergarten) last year. So we’re not changing anything at that level,” Schwanke said.
When children do reach age 7, it will cost more for Nighthawks, but scholarships will be available, Schwanke said.
The Schilke-Novak Kids Sports Trust Grant offers assistance to participants in the Nighthawks and Ladyhawks program. The Friends of the Fremont Area Parks offers assistance for City of Fremont programs.
Children in the parks and recreation program get a T-shirt. Those in the Nighthawks organization get a full uniform.
Schwanke noted that for the 7-year-old age group, participants can spend a year in the Nighthawks in the instructional, in-house leagues.
“If Nighthawks says, ‘Hey, that kid’s pretty good, let’s try to get him on a competitive team,’ they can do it at that point,” Schwanke said.
In a report, Schwanke said the process will be monitored by both the city department and the Nighthawks organizations. Changes will be made as necessary for the entirety of the agreement.
“I think it’s doable,” Brown said.
The next parks board meeting will be Jan. 2.