Game Fixer

Balking at permit fees

BRIAN BAKER, Sports Editor

Permit me to make a few comments on the corporate ninjas who have sabotaged a perfectly good year of baseball.

The corporation in this case is the City of Toronto, whose clandestine introduction of field permits for youth sports has league executives muttering obscenities behind closed doors, in public or even to journalists such as myself.

I first heard about the unorthodox squeeze play from Leaside Baseball president Howard Birnie, who discovered on Feb. 10 his association will be dinged for an additional $13,000 — $80 per player registration.

He was a gentleman over the phone but did speak his mind on the last-minute substitution.

“I don’t like the fees at all, but the way they’ve done it is just mind-boggling,” he told me.

Ball diamonds are given an A, B or C classification, based on whether they have lights, grass infields, fancy stands, booths and other amenities affixed to the baseball culture. Every kid will now be charged $10.52 per hour for A-class diamonds, $7.80 for B-class and $5.31 for Cs.

In my honest opinion, regardless of what political ideologies have attempted to run the city, Toronto has always appeared to be anti-family.

My journalist colleague Karolyn Coorsh and I stole away on the story as soon as we caught the signs. I spoke with league reps from High Park, North York, Leaside, East York and the Balmy Beach Rugby Club. My Town Crier partner in crime, a city bureau chief, thankfully spoke to the politicians and bureaucrats.

Complaints from associations were similar, focusing on timing of the permit fees and the relevance, considering so many organizations already maintain their fields with their own money.

“You hear Doug Ford saying, ‘Oh, they can get $100 more from their sponsors’,” Birnie said. “We don’t get very many of them and it’s just mind numbing. He’s in another world.”

It’s hard enough for the newspaper industry to find advertising, and our staff gets paid to do that. So how does an amateur sports league with volunteers do that?

For East York Baseball Association, they spend $20,000 of their own money a year on maintaining their field, president Andrew Pace told me.

Though he finds the lack of communication from the bureaucrats irksome, adding permit fees is taxing on the 150 volunteers who already spend extra innings working for the league.

Rep is also facing a crunch. Teams are chosen in September the previous year.

“They’re accepting a position on a team based on the budget that was given to them,” Pace said. “And now we’re going to have to go back to these people and ask for more.”

An even bigger problem is the threat against East York’s baseball camp.

“If our fees have to go up $100, $150, in our area that means kids might not go to camp anymore,” he said. “Their parents can’t afford to do that.

“In the end if we don’t get enough kids because we have to raise fees, then the camp closes down,” he added. “Then you have less chance for the kids to be active and be a part of the community.”

That could mean more “idle hands” during the summer. I need not reference the old adage tied to those two words.

Birnie admits it won’t be too bad for some associations to weather the rainout, but he fears many parents are going to be unable to enroll their kids in amateur sports.

“In Leaside it’s not a big deal because the money’s there, and North Toronto’s the same, but it’s the fact that we’ve already got our registration being done and the fees, which we set because we didn’t know about these permit fees,” he said. “So it just makes it extremely awkward.

“There are areas in the city where it’s a struggle,” he added. “It’s going to affect some people’s decision whether their kids are going to play.”

And for the kids who love sports, the city has just thrown them the chair.

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