The Little League's boys of summer may soon become the boys of fall and winter as well, and local Pop Warner football enthusiasts are none too happy about it.
The Little League wants to add a fall-winter instructional league to its spring-summer baseball season. That would mean kicking the kids' football program out of its longtime home in Pelota Park.
The proposal, which is expected to come before the city Parks and Human Services Commission and City Council later this month, has kindled a small civic debate on the diamond vs. the gridiron. Some even see it as a referendum on the well-rounded sporting life.
"There's a time to play football, a time to play baseball and a time to play basketball," said Tony Rizzo, commissioner of Pop Warner's Mt. Baldy Conference, which includes the La Verne/San Dimas teams.
Bill Aguirre, director of the La Verne Parks and Human Services Division, has recommended that the City Council on April 15 grant the Little League's request for year-round use of the park, starting next year. "The decision I made is not popular with Pop Warner," Aguirre said, but "we're looking at what's best for the community."
Gary Whobrey, president of La Verne Little League, said 763 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15 played baseball and softball in his program last year.
By obtaining year-round use of Pelota Park, he said, Little League could extend its summer season by a month and offer a fall program from September to December. Now, about 200 La Verne youngsters have to go to neighboring cities to take part in fall Little League programs, he said.
Larry Mosher, president of La Verne/San Dimas Pop Warner, admits that he has fewer participants than Little League. One girl and 200 boys from 7 to 14 years old played Pop Warner football last year, and 75 girls participated as cheerleaders.
But Mosher, who is circulating petitions asking that Pelota Park remain open to football, said his program has earned the right to remain at the park. He said Pop Warner parents about 20 years ago graded the field, put in the sprinkler system and installed the first lights at the sports park, which sits on Wheeler Avenue adjoining Grace Miller School.
But Little League officials say they helped develop the park, too, spending $50,000 on improvements in the past three years.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jon Harry Blickenstaff believes a diplomatic solution may be possible. He said city staff members are negotiating for possible use of a football practice field in neighboring San Dimas and of La Verne's Bonita High School football stadium for games.
It couldn't happen soon enough for some of the players, who say they should not be deprived of baseball or football. "We should have each sport," 9-year-old Terry Wopperer said. "It's not fair."