Cal City eyes Little League field repairs, name change
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.