The Meridian City Council approved an agreement with a Christian-based youth baseball training organization in a 3-1 vote at a special called meeting Friday morning.
The three-year contract approves the use of Q.V. Sykes Park by East Coast Sox, a for-profit group based in Columbus that provides coaching and clinics to youth players, as well as hosting a showcase.
The item was first introduced in Tuesday’s council meeting but was tabled after a lengthy discussion, and concerns were raised over field use, youth involvement and revenue share.
Inclusions were added to the initial agreement, Parks and Recreation director Trent Posey said, allowing the Meridian High School booster club to operate the concession stand at Q.V. Sykes and receive the generated revenue.
Since portions of the park are controlled by the City of Meridian and other portions are controlled by Lauderdale County, it was made clear the contract was for the city-controlled portions.
“This is an agreement that is going to help Meridian for the long term,” Posey said. “(East Coast Sox) is willing to do a lot for the community and just give back, and I think it’ll have a great impact. They’re such a great group of guys, I think everybody’s going to fall in love with them, and this is going to be something that we see for years to come here in Meridian.”
Posey said East Coast Sox is willing to pay the cost of upgrades and improvement to the fields at Q.V. Sykes, and there’s a possibility of using James E. Chaney Park as well. The program's clinics and other events are scheduled to begin in June and will run over 12 weekends in the summer. They will be free for kids under 14 years old.
East Coast Sox did not agree, however, to the proposition of splitting the money made from admissions, Posey said, which led Ward 5 council member Weston Lindemann to be the lone vote against the agreement.
“This is the opportunity to negotiate here when you start an arrangement like this, not three years from now,” Lindemann said. “I think that’s something we do too much. We hear an offer and we think, ‘Oh, they chose Meridian,’ and we just go with the first offer and never mind that it’s lopsided and drastically in favor of a for-profit organization. Any time we deal with agreements like this, there’s always going to be some benefit to the city, but we want to maximize the benefit to the city and I don’t think we did that as well as we could’ve today.”
Ward 4 council member and board president Kim Houston held off from voting in favor of the contract in Tuesday’s meeting, wanting further discussions to ensure the events held at Q.V. Sykes by East Coast Sox will be accessible to kids in low-income areas.
After Posey addressed her concerns Friday, she voted to approve the agreement.
“I'm trusting that what we want to be done, will be done," Houston said. "With Mr. (Ricky) Hood being here with the Boys and Girls Club, and inviting him to the table and challenging our Parks and Rec Department and our administration to make sure that they are not left out, in turn should help bring a greater excitement back to some of children of our community who may not have ever really been exposed to baseball."
Hood, executive director of Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi, spoke before the council to advocate for the agreement, saying the clinics could bring a resurgence of participation in baseball and create excitement for the sport in the community.
Meridian High School athletic director Cheyenne Trussell and head baseball coach Eddie Easley also spoke in favor, asserting that East Coast Sox’s involvement will improve the school’s baseball feeder system and create better high school players.
“(Hood) came on and he made the point that his kids got opportunities because of travel sports such as East Coast Sox and what they are,” Posey said. “It’s not for everyone, but it certainly has an impact on a lot of kids and gives kids an opportunity, and by allowing Meridian High School baseball kids to come to the showcase where there’s going to be tons of scouts, they’re giving them that opportunity, from a travel aspect, to be seen and possibly get a scholarship somewhere.”