Editorial: Putting the brakes on Worcester’s ‘tag days’

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Hardly anything evokes as much fondness and nostalgia as baseball. Make that “youth baseball” — or youth softball, basketball, football or gymnastics — and hearts melt.

But nostalgia hits a wall at the mention of “tag days” on Worcester streets.

Where Cross, East Central and Shamrock streets meet Shrewsbury -- soon Worcester drivers could see the return of little-league "panhandlers" there.

Patrick Sargent / For Worcester Sun

Where Cross, East Central and Shamrock streets meet Shrewsbury — soon Worcester drivers could see the return of little-league “panhandlers” there.

These fundraisers, typically involving young people at busy intersections asking drivers for cash, have not been missed by motorists the last three years.

Let’s keep them in the past.

FIRST in the Sun: King, league officials eye return of ‘tag days’ [April 10]

The teams themselves, and other groups and charities, need to take the lead on this. There are safer, wiser and more agreeable ways to raise money.

It was inevitable that the topic would resurface, after the city’s two anti-panhandling ordinances of 2013 were ruled unconstitutional last year.

Tag days were taken up by the City Council Tuesday, April 12, with the council deciding to ask the city to reinstate the ordinance governing tag days. It had been repealed in January 2013 because passage of the two doomed ordinances aimed at aggressive panhandling — which for legal reasons included other forms of streetside soliciting, too — made it moot.

The repealed Section 13A Tag Day Permits had long governed city streetside fundraisers conducted by charitable groups, such as firefighters holding boot drives for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and youth organizations, especially sports teams. Tag days could only occur once a year per organization; and participants needed to be at least 16, wear an ID, be supervised by an adult from the organization, and stay off the roadway except to collect a donation offered by a driver.

More opinion from the Sun: Editorial: Coincidences or culture shift

Councilor at-large Khrystian E. King, long involved with youth basketball, set the matter in motion Tuesday at the request of Nicola D’Andrea, secretary-treasurer of the East Side Babe Ruth Club. D’Andrea told the Sun for an April 10 story that tag days used to bring in between $1,500 and $4,000 — a big help to any organization, and especially one not surrounded by affluence such as his.

East Side Babe Ruth baseball has an average annual budget of about $11,000, according to D’Andrea, with the money going to field maintenance, uniforms, insurance, umpire fees and equipment.

Christopher Lloyd, an official with the Tom Ash Little League in the economically modest Vernon Hill neighborhood, agrees the tag days provided a boost. “Any funding would help,” he said.

Tom Ash has about 80 participants in its Little League program this season.

Courtesy Tom Ash Little League

Tom Ash has about 80 participants in its Little League program this season.

While, technically, a nonprofit group can now conduct a tag day without a police permit, reviving the ordinance would provide guidelines and constraints, supporters argue, while making police aware the event is planned. In this regard, we credit the leagues for asking for guidance rather than just taking to the streets.

On the other side of the coin, reviving the ordinance would also lend a legitimacy to a type of fundraising we feel belongs to days gone by.

It’s a quandary.

Those involved in these former fundraisers at intersections were almost invariably polite and buoyant. The sight of teammates and others out in their uniforms on a bright spring day was at worst a passing annoyance.

Over the years, though, and on certain Saturdays, the sight became too familiar and too frequent, and some grumbled it was also too easy. Drivers doing chores or going about their business couldn’t help but feel accosted, a captive audience willing the light to turn green so they wouldn’t have to fish out coins or dollars.

The safety question — mostly a ruse with respect to the adult, sometimes aggressive panhandlers the overturned 2013 ordinances were aimed at — was very real with respect to the enthusiastic young solicitors included in the measure. Young people darting among cars, some of whom seemed younger and shorter than 16 as we recall, was a risk that thankfully never resulted in tragedy.

For some control, Worcester might indeed want to reinstate the old ordinance. Either way, tag days are legal. But that doesn’t make them advisable.

What would best solve the dilemma would be for the teams and other nonprofits to simply let tag days die a natural death.

Other ways to raise money range from car washes to online funding campaigns, charity suppers to corporate sponsorships. People need things done — from brush removal in October, to shoveling in January, to planting and mowing in June. A charity corral at traditions such as stART on the Street could be a fun way to connect.

Young people and their leaders, we know, can come up with ideas both time-tested and creative to raise money, and community affection, for their cause.

We sympathize completely with cash-strapped but big-hearted efforts, particularly ones such as summer baseball that get kids running, learning, striving, cheering, cooperating and winning. That goes double for children and their families for whom such riches are tough to afford.

The demise of tag days means that more of us need to make sure we’re covering the bases when it comes to supporting our local kids in the pursuits they care about.

They need us as much as ever, maybe more than ever, even if they’re no longer shouting and waving from the median strips and sidewalks.

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