Youth sports league in Berkeley raising money to save park

Baseball field at Tom Conley Park in Ladson

It’s not a new predicament for Ladson Youth Organization. Trying to save the Tom Conley Park, the site of the local league’s games and practices for a variety of sports the last half-century, is again the focus of players, parents and coaches.

Through the organization, about 900 children—ages 4 to 14 roughly—participate in football, T-ball, baseball, softball, cheerleading and soccer camp at the field. The youth stem from all over the tri-county, including Summerville, Ladson, North Charleston, Sangaree, Hanahan, Moncks Corner and Goose Creek, according to league officials.

Last year, the owner of the park property reached a deal with the league allowing the league the chance to purchase the property for $387,500—about half of the appraisal price of around $775,000.

In 2016, the MLB and one of its legendary standouts, Cal Ripken Jr., even helped renovate the park for $150,000. But it’s been up to volunteers to maintain the property—often the target of overnight criminal activity, said Tommy Newell, league president and Berkeley County councilman.

“We try to keep it nice, but you got meth heads stealing our copper wiring so we can’t have scoreboards,” he said. “That…and breaking into our concession stands. That’s why we need to own (the field) so we can put a fence around it.”

The league has yet to come up with the reduced price tag to purchase the park but has been working hard the last year, soliciting community donations and hosting fundraising events. About $90,000 remains on the fundraising goal.

While the league has received no “firm date” for when it needs to have the funds in hand, Newell said the deadline is “sooner rather than later,” to keep the property owner from possibly selling the park to a housing developer. League treasurer Jennifer Powell agreed.

“We are well beyond our deadline of the end of last year,” she said. “The property owner has been exceedingly gracious in allowing us to continue to operate while trying to raise the money, but our time is definitely running out. I do not have a hard deadline other than the end of last year.”

Newell said the land owner and his board have been patient with the league to come up with the money to buy the park “for a very generous price.”

But the county leader’s connection to the park goes beyond his board of director’s role. He said he served as a league coach prior to becoming president a year-and-a-half ago, and even played in the league as a child. Newell expressed the significance of the park in youth’s lives.

“Sports keeps kids out of trouble,” he said.

While other similar recreational leagues, like Summerville Sertoma, exist nearby, they still aren’t close enough for some children to travel to regularly—or at all.

“There are many working parents who may not be able to travel to other parks for practices and games,” Powell said. “We have children who ride their bikes the short distance from their home to the field. Those are the children that will be impacted the most.”

Newell echoed Powell’s comments. “It’s centrally located in a huge population area,” he said of the park.

Additionally, the league’s registration fees are lower than those of other local leagues, according to Powell.

“We serve a lower income area and some families simply cannot afford to pay higher registration fees,” she said.

On Wednesday, Powell started a GoFundMe page, “Purchase Tom Conley Park,” to collect field donations. As of Thursday afternoon, $245 had been raised on the $90,000 goal.

“We are willing to work with any businesses willing to donate,” Powell said. “We have advertising opportunities available as well as the tremendous amount of positive publicity that would be attributed to helping save a local landmark.”

I've been a newspaper reporter for 10yrs, covering everything from President's arrival on Air Force One to murder trials, a cat stuck in a wall, death of a UFO expert & meeting Nick Jonas (who snubbed me). I also enjoy singing & obsessing over my pittie.