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Highlands delays decision on baseball field lease

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A decade-old dispute between competing youth baseball organizations led to the Highlands School Board delaying action on a tentative five-year lease for the high school's baseball diamond.

The school board planned to consider a five-year lease next Monday for the Diamond Club, a booster organization designed to make improvements to the baseball field.

Parents who attended Monday's agenda meeting, several of whom were Highlands Little League board members, told the school board that their organization couldn't use the field last year because the school board had put the Diamond Club in charge of field usage.

In 2012, the Little League used the field for its junior division (ages 13-14) three nights a week for $600 over the course of the season.

Glenn Schott, Diamond Club representative, told the board that the organization had raised more than $400,000 for field improvements since its inception in 1991.

Schott added that the club runs one program called Golden Rams Baseball once the high school season is completed. Palomino and Colt teams, part of the national Protect Our Nation's Youth program, commonly known as PONY League, have access to the field in summer.

The Natrona Heights Softball/Baseball Association, which also sponsors girls softball, rents the fields at the rear of the high school complex for $1 per year.

Resident Antonio Lopriata of Brackenridge said that nowhere on the school district's lease with the Diamond Club states that discrimination is allowed.

“That field belongs to the taxpayers and the Diamond Club is taking ownership of my property,” Lopriata said. “Not everybody wants to play for NHSB or Highlands Palomino.”

Another issue is the high school field being locked.

Resident Tom Runyon said he can take his children to softball and soccer fields and the high school football stadium anytime he wants but not to the high school baseball diamond.

Schott said the field is locked because the field was “abused” and people without insurance were using it.

The Little League and the NHSBA have feuded over field use for at least 10 years.

On Feb. 19, 2003, the school board wanted to award a five-year lease to the NHSBA. But Highlands Little League officials said they should have some field usage.

Kevin Gourley of the NHSBA and Mark Fleck of the Little League worked out an arrangement advised by the school board.

At a December 2002 board meeting, Fleck disputed the school board's granting a lease to the Diamond Club because it didn't provide the school district with its annual budget, as per district policy.

The simmering dispute on the high school field came to a head in 2011 when the Little League had to give up use of Ludlum Field in Brackenridge when Allegheny Ludlum steel needed the field for a staging area related to the $1 billion steel mill addition.

Highlands Little League hasn't found a suitable site for a 90-foot diamond field to replace Ludlum Field, and wanted to use the high school field last summer and has requested using it in 2014.

About a year ago, the Highlands School Board asked the Little League and the NHSBA to merge into one unit for teenaged leagues, but the merger never materialized.

School board member Jonathan Love said the high school field should be open to Highlands School District students and no one should be precluded from using it.

Board President Carrie Fox said the Diamond Club's and the NHSBA's request for new leases will be pulled from Monday's agenda.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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