The city’s many youth sports organizations are funded in myriad ways. Some more than others. A select few, much more. Private money is not as readily available, or at least has not been as easily tapped, in many neighborhoods.
That’s why a first-term councilor and longtime basketball league official wants to bring back “tag days” to Worcester’s intersections.
Councilor at-Large Khrystian E. King is backing a petition on behalf of East Side Babe Ruth at the Tuesday, April 12, City Council meeting asking to reinstate an ordinance and again allow youth sports leagues to raise funds by soliciting from motorists along sidewalks and in the city’s busy thoroughfares.
This comes in the wake of the city’s aggressive panhandler ordinances being judged unconstitutional in U.S. District Court in November, loosening restrictions on people who use street corners, stop lights and intersections to ask, sometimes dangerously, for money.
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King said part of the new ordinance should include guidelines, including police involvement, to help ensure the safety of participants. The bottom line is, the freshman councilor, who for the past 20 years has run the Crompton Park Summer basketball league, believes this a necessary fundraising option for some leagues that struggle to makes ends meet.
“We want league groups to be able to fundraise on behalf of the kids in the community,” he said. “This would help kids that wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford to play sports otherwise.”
In October 2012, then City Manager Michael V. O’Brien proposed two ordinances aimed at reducing the number of aggressive panhandlers in the city.
When both ordinances passed in 2013, it put an end to so-called tag days, when local organizations, such as youth sports teams — many remember the firefighters’ Boot Drive for Multiple Sclerosis — would apply for permits from the city and stand at intersections to solicit donations from motorists.
For Little League and Babe Ruth baseball, this money would go toward new equipment, uniforms and field maintenance.
Upheld in a federal appeals court in June 2014, the panhandling ordinances were overturned in November 2015 by Judge Timothy S. Hillman in U.S. District Court, who deemed them unconstitutional based on a June 2015 Supreme Court decision, thus opening the door for the return of tag days..
According to District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen, chairman of the Youth, Parks and Recreation Committee, “It surely wasn’t easy for a previous City Council to implement that ban. We all know how important funds are to various sports teams and leagues. And the funds raised in the past by tag days often were substantial.”
Nicola D’Andrea, secretary-treasurer for East Side Babe Ruth and a 2015 School Committee candidate, said tag days, in his experience, would bring in $1,500 to $4,000 on a weekend.
“Each year it gets tougher to raise money. Tag days used to pay a significant amount of our bills,” he said.
According to D’Andrea, East Side Babe Ruth operates on an average annual budget of about $11,000. Costs include maintenance of fields, uniforms, insurance, umpires fees and equipment.
“Anything that benefits an inner-city league financially obviously helps. We likely need more funding than any other league in the city,” said Christopher Lloyd, an official at Tom Ash Little League, who says the league does not benefit from any private funding and the neighborhood, Vernon Hill, comprises many low-income families that can’t afford the $50 signup fee.
“Any funding would help.”
According to Lloyd, Tom Ash has about 80 children in its Little League program.
“To see kids out there really working for the money and having people donate and getting the city involved really helps a ton,” Lloyd said.
Bringing back the tag day ordinance is as much about regulation as it is fundraising, D’Andrea noted.
“Right now there’s nothing preventing members of all the leagues to go out and stand and try to raise money,” he said. “I would like the city to recognize that these leagues can do that, but with some stipulations put in place.”
D’Andrea said guidelines are necessary before leagues begin taking the initiative. “If it’s not done correctly, it could be a huge issue,” he said. “We’re petitioning the city to help out the leagues to say, ‘You can do this if you follow these strict guidelines.’ ”
Previous guidelines included that all tag day participants had to at least be 16 years old, were regulated to sidewalks, street corners, and medians at intersections, and were to be identifiable by the organization they were representing (e.g., wearing a baseball uniform).
Before the law was repealed in January 2013 it stipulated permits issued by the chief of police must specify the days and intersections each group planned to use.
“We’re requesting the city to come back with a revised tag day ordinance,” King said. “We would like it to be similar to the previous one.”
Additionally, all organizations would have to be represented by a supervisor of the age of 21 or older.
“My main concern and worry,” Rosen said in an email, “is simply that anyone — a child, an adult, a panhandler — is inviting a tragedy at busy intersections by stepping into the street to receive a donation among cars that are poised for a change from a red to a green light.”
As far as safety is concerned, King believes the involvement of Worcester Police in supplying permits is necessary.
“We should still keep them involved in the process,” he said. “They’ll play an important role in keeping our kids safe.”