Cal City eyes Lit­tle League field re­pairs, name change

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By AL­LI­SON GATLIN Val­ley Press Staff Writer

CAL­I­FOR­NIA CITY — City of­fi­cials are seek­ing a com­pro­mise be­tween keep­ing the name of a beloved for­mer ed­u­ca­tor and ballplayer on the lo­cal Lit­tle League ball­fields and the of­fer of funds for much-needed re­pairs to those di­lap­i­dated fields in ex­change for chang­ing the name of the fa­cil­ity to a de­vel­oper.

The pro­posal, broached at the Dec. 10 City Coun­cil meet­ing, brought out spir­ited de­bate on both sides of the is­sue.

The Lit­tle League fields were named in the early 1980s for J. Herman Coo

per, a for­mer Ne­gro Amer­i­can League ballplayer and ed­u­ca­tor who spent his later years in Cal­i­for­nia City and was a sup­porter of the lo­cal Lit­tle League.

“In no way are we try­ing to dis­honor or dis­re­spect J. Herman Cooper,” said Todd Brous­sard, pres­i­dent of the Cal City Lit­tle League Board of Di­rec­tors. “But right now, we need to do some­thing for the chil­dren of Cal City now.”

The fields have fallen into dis­re­pair in re­cent years, as nei­ther the Lit­tle League nor the city have been able to ad­e­quately fund their up­keep.

The field con­di­tions have de­te­ri­o­rated to the point where other teams refuse to play in Cal City, Brous­sard said.

“When the bud­get goes wonky, parks and rec is gen­er­ally the first place the City Coun­cil and ev­ery­one looks to make cuts,” he said.

De­vel­oper Michael El­li­son has of­fered at least $50,000 to repair the fields and to pro­vide fu­ture main­te­nance in ex­change for putting his name on the fa­cil­ity, Brous­sard said.

“We’d like to make Cal City a place where peo­ple want to come and play base­ball,” he said. “The hon­est truth is many places on the fields are a safety is­sue at this point.”

“I think it’s a bless­ing for the city” to be able to re­fur­bish the fields and have them re­main city as­sets, he said.

There is a small plaque ded­i­cat­ing the fields in Cooper’s name em­bed­ded in the ground near the snack bar, where it is not easily seen. As sev­eral peo­ple men­tioned dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, there are many peo­ple un­aware the fields are named for Cooper at all, or do not know any­thing about the man, who died in 1993.

Brous­sard pro­posed mov­ing the plaque to a more prom­i­nent po­si­tion near a flag pole, where all play­ers would see it be­fore games.

“It would also be an area that gar­ners a lit­tle more re­spect,” he said.

A num­ber of long­time res­i­dents re­called Cooper and his con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mu­nity’s chil­dren and were op­posed to any change in the fields’ name.

While agree­ing the fields are in “des­per­ate” need of repair and do­na­tions are wel­come to help, res­i­dent Sil­ver Farr said re­quest­ing to name the fields in ex­change for the money means El­li­son’s of­fer is not a char­i­ta­ble do­na­tion.

Cooper made sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mu­nity and its chil­dren, she said.

“I don’t want to in­sult Mr. El­li­son or any­body,” she said. “I am ex­tremely grate­ful for any kind of do­na­tion that is made to that field, they des­per­ately need it, but isn’t there an­other way that this could be done and show ap­pre­ci­a­tion?”

Res­i­dent Ge­orge Grimshaw re­called Cooper as the sub­sti­tute teacher his fa­ther al­ways called on when he needed one.

“Herman didn’t ask for the field to be named for him. He was down there coach­ing, help­ing, cheer­ing those kids on for years,” he said. “It was an honor that was given to him and a legacy for him and that needs to re­main.”

Lit­tle League coach and Board mem­ber Shane Moore said that in 20 years in the city, he had never heard the fa­cil­ity called Cooper Field. The pro­posal to move the plaque and make the con­nec­tion more prom­i­nent would be a way to con­tinue to honor him.

How­ever, the needs to re­fur­bish the fields are a press­ing need.

“If this doesn’t hap­pen with Mr. El­li­son, our kids are go­ing to con­tinue to play on di­lap­i­dated fields. Some­times you have to make a small sac­ri­fice when some­one’s will­ing to do some­thing that can ac­tu­ally change the con­di­tion of the fields th­ese kids are play­ing on,” Moore said.

The con­di­tions are a safety haz­ard and the city risks a law­suit if some­one is in­jured, he said.

“I’m beg­ging you, this needs to hap­pen. I don’t know what else to say,” Brous­sard said.

Coun­cilmem­ber Ron Smith re­called his chil­dren play­ing at Cooper Field some 30 years ago and felt chang­ing the name in ex­change for fund­ing was not a do­na­tion, but paid ad­ver­tis­ing.

He en­cour­aged the Lit­tle League to find other means of us­ing that ad­ver­tis­ing with­out chang­ing the name of the fields.

“Shame on this com­mu­nity for not keep­ing this man’s name alive,” Smith said. “This is not like Cow­boy Sta­dium, AT&T Sta­dium.”

The Coun­cil re­quested an item­ized list of the re­pairs re­quired on the fields to bring them up to playable stan­dards, while they work to come up with a com­pro­mise.

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