Seeking more community input and involvement in keeping up and improving county recreation fields and facilities, the Butts County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted unanimously at their July 13 meeting to form a steering committee of volunteers to come up with a game plan for the improvements.
The decision came at the request of Sen. Burt Jones, who spoke to the board about getting the community involved in recreation again. Jones recalled what it was like to be in county recreation when he was growing up in Butts County.
“We were really fortunate when Ernest Biles was running the Recreation Department and he had a lot of the local organizations, like the Daughtry Foundation, that always helped fund recreation,” Jones said. “We were always fortunate to have very pristine fields and a good deal of participation with children and parents.”
Jones stated that he has talked with Leisure Services director Mary Lynn Overbey and believes she is “doing the best she can with what she has.” He added that his comments are not directed at her, but at the community in general.
“This has been a neglect that we as the community have done for a couple of decades,” Jones said. “This is no blame on you or past administrations, it’s just been something I don’t think we’ve had in the forefront as a community and something that we need to take hold of and take pride in and try to revitalize it by giving it the necessary resources.”
Jone added that it is not just about seeking monetary contributions to make improvements, but to also try to engage the community as a whole to get more personally involved with the youth of the county.
“I can remember some of our long time volunteer coaches,” he said. “Homer Williams comes to mind, and Pete Malone and David Haisten and Arthur White. All those people were down there at the recreation department, no matter if they had children involved or not. They were there and they were coaching and trying to engage our young people and teach our young people about sportsmanship and competing and things of that nature.
“What I want is ask if you would consider putting together a steering committee, five or six people from within the community,” he said. “I’ll be happy to serve on it as well. And let’s come up with a conceptual plan. We need to figure out what needs to be done — fields, fences, concession stands — things of that nature that need to be either refurbished or replaced. Then work with Mary Lynn (Overbey) and the staff there and come up with an official concept and budget of what it would cost, then set out a game plan and how to get it paid for.
“We’ve never had a problem with this community — business owners and individuals — wanting to give back. A lot of times they just have to be led properly or sold on an idea. I don’t think there is any better way to bring the community together than through sports and youth programs.”
BOC Chair Kenneth Rivers noted that there have been ongoing structural and facility issues that have been overwhelming at times, and said he is excited to try to get a public/private partnership to assist with those needs.
Russ Crumbley suggested that in the next SPLOST, that more funding be directed toward Leisure Services and recreation.
“Our youth is the greatest natural resource we’ve got, and the more money you put in trying to help young folks out is less that you have to spend on jails and everything else in today’s society,” Crumbley said. “I’m already onboard.”
Jones replied that he hopes to get much of the work done with private funding versus tax dollars and has already started reaching out to people who grew up in Butts County and benefitted from being a part of a good recreation program who he believes will be willing to help once a plan of action is in place.
“I’ve got ideas on how we get it done, but I know the first order of business is to find out what has to be done and then what it is going to cost,” Jones said. “Then we can go about tackling those issues. I want to try to do it more with private dollars as opposed to tax dollars. As you have more private dollars, you get more buy in from the community, the parents, and the organizations.”
Robert Henderson thanked Jones for his idea of the steering committee.
“I think this is the right step to take to show interest in the community,” Henderson said.
Joe Brown agreed that they need to get parents more involved again.
“In the past, when I was coming through there, and my kids were coming through there, parents were involved,” he said. “They volunteered to keep score, they volunteered to work in the concession stands, they volunteered to coach, they volunteered to umpire. Those days are gone, but I think we need to bring them back for a lot of reasons. The more parents and citizens you get involved, the closer this community comes together.”
Brown added that there are things that can be done now that wouldn’t cost a lot of money, such as landscaping companies sponsoring fields.
“We’ve got a lot of landscaping companies in this county,” Brown said. “They could put up a sign that says ‘This field maintained by whoever.’ They could come down and oversee it. We’ve got plenty of labor that could do it. All kinds of things like that, that this group could do. Once everybody buys into it, it could build on itself.”
A motion to appoint a steering committee was made, seconded and approved. The commissioners agreed to have their committee nominees ready by their Aug. 11 meeting.