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Leagues want field's lights on later


Sponsors of girls softball and boys football leagues want to keep field lights on later at Jaycees Municipal Park in Westminster, a move they hope won't be controversial with neighbors.

Residents near the park on Johahn Drive protested last year that the lights were so bright that they didn't need to turn on lamps inside their homes. In response, city government spent about $3,520 to install 16 light shields and about $5,000 for pine trees to reduce noise and screen the fields.

The Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League asked the city parks board Wednesday night to recommend later hours for the lights in 1996 so the league can accommodate all the girls who want to play in a growing program. They were joined in the request by the Westminster Optimist Football and Cheerleading Association.

The leagues want a 9:30 p.m. deadline for turning off the lights Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday during the school year. When school is not in session, they want a 10 p.m. lights-off deadline Sunday through Thursday and a 10:30 p.m. deadline Friday and Saturday.

The current turn-off times are 9 p.m. while schools are in session and 10 p.m. when they aren't.

Westminster's parks board can recommend the changes to the City Council, which makes the final decision. The board is expected to act on the request at its July 19 meeting.

"Our biggest concern was not turning girls away from the program," said softball coach Jim Chiculta.

The request for extended lighting hours came after city officials, acting on a complaint, ordered the league last month to obey the 9 p.m. "lights out" during the school year.

Ed Henry, president of the girls league, countered that former recreation supervisor Carol Donovan had told the Jaycees they could use the lights after 9 p.m. on some nights before the school year ended.

City Planning and Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard told the league to follow the rules.

"Maybe there was a miscommunication, maybe a change of personnel, whatever, but the softball league has been running the lights past 9 p.m. some of the nights," Mr. Beyard said.

Neighbors and league sponsors expressed a desire to discuss the lighting request.

Cathy Markey, a Whispering Meadows resident who lobbied for the light shields last year, said the shields and tree screens have improved the situation. But Ms. Markey asked why the leagues didn't ask for a change of hours in 1994 when the lights were before the City Council.

"The time was an issue at that time," she said. "It was set in stone."

The softball league enrolled 440 girls in 1994 and more than 500 this year. To fit in 16 games per team, the league must schedule games at 8 p.m., which means they won't end until 9:30 p.m., Mr. Henry said.

"We could cut back to a 12-game schedule, but we want to give the girls as much chance to play as possible," he said.

James M. Catel, a Uniontown Road resident who reported that the lights were on after 9 p.m., said he didn't have an initial reaction to the proposal to extend lighting hours. "I'll have to think about it," he said. "I want to talk to my neighbors."

The Optimist league has grown from 105 children on three teams and two cheerleader squads three years ago to 210 on four teams and four cheerleader squads last year, league president John Meyer said.

He said he sometimes kept the lights on after 9 p.m. when parents were late picking up their children.

The softball league gives girls a chance to maintain their self-esteem, said league board member Susan Panek.

"When I was my daughter's age, there wasn't anything like this for girls," she said. "There was Little League [for boys] and that was it."

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