Chandler players wary of ballpark The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler players wary of ballpark

Chandler players wary of ballpark
City News

By Kevin Reagan, Arizonan Staff Writer

The sounds of gunshots, dirty needles bags of methamphetamine are conditions the players of Chandler Girls Softball League worry about on a regular basis.

The league’s current practice facility, Folley Memorial Park at 601 W. Frye Road, Chandler, is falling into disrepair and getting to be too dangerous, according to Debbie O’Connell, one of the league’s coaches.

She’s been with the league for the last five seasons and claims Folley Park steadily deteriorated and its surroundings exceedingly worsened to the point where she’s had to cancel practices due to too much suspicious activity around the premises.

“It’s just ridiculous the stuff that goes on during the day,” O’Connell said.

This is why the league is hoping the city will follow through on plans made years ago to build a softball complex.

Chandler’s 2008 General Plan recommended softball fields be added to Tumbleweed Park, yet the league has not seen them come to fruition more than a decade later. The city said Tumbleweed’s master plan still includes the addition of four softball fields, but no funding has been authorized for them.

When voters approved a $451-million bond in 2007, a good chunk of the money was reserved for building new recreational facilities.

But then the Great Recession hit and most public projects were put on hold.

As the economy slowly recovered over the following years, the city began utilizing bond money on park improvements. Now the softball players believe it’s their turn to get some fields built out.

The league’s begun circulating a petition and voicing their concerns before the Chandler City Council.

O’Connell hopes something can be done relatively soon because she’s already seen a decline in league membership. The players don’t always feel safe at Folley Park, the coach said, and deserve to have a better place to play.

The league began documenting worrisome items players found around Folley Park in the hopes of convincing city leaders to take action. They’ve so far taken photos of drug paraphernalia, gang graffiti and bloody toilets.

“Our young girls shouldn’t have to be seeing the things they’re seeing,” O’Connell said. “The things they’ve been seeing is just horrific.”

Data published by the Chandler Police Department show officers filed at least 55 reports for incidents at Folley Park during 2019.

By comparison, Chandler Police had 19 reports at Espee Park, 11 at Nozomi Park and seven at Pima Park during the same time frame.

The city said it’s trying to reduce the homeless population around Folley Park by connecting these individuals with public resources.

As of April 2019, the city made contact with 30 homeless people around the park and most have accepted help.

Folley Park, which was built in the 1970s in honor of boxer Zora Folley, was awarded about $857,000 in park improvements a couple years ago.

The city recently installed covers over the field’s dugouts and $30,000 was spent on renovating the park’s bathrooms.

But the softball community doesn’t feel this face-lift didn’t go far enough to upgrade the fields.

Ella Wicoff, a 13-year-old softball player, said she knows other girls who have left the league or been discouraged to join due to Folley’s current conditions.

“Girls are afraid to go to the bathroom alone,” Wicoff said.

She can’t help but feel there’s a gender disparity between the number of fields available for baseball players compared to softball.

It’s not fair girls don’t have the same level of access as the boys, Wicoff added.

Softball players have 12 fields available to rent from the city while baseball players have 21, according to the city’s website.

“Our current fields are absolutely unacceptable for our girls to play on and we should have been given better fields years ago,” Wicoff added.

The city’s parks department will be studying the needs of all its facilities this year in a comprehensive master plan assessment. The city said it encourages groups like Chandler Girls Softball to participate in the study and make their demands known.

“In the meantime, we continue to communicate with Chandler Girls Softball and take measures to ensure the safe enjoyment of Folley Park by residents and sports associations,” a city spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Chandler Councilman Matt Orlando, who’s been an umpire for the softball league, thinks the city should be able to find solutions to make Folley Park a better place to play.

“We have to really take a hard look at what we could do with these fields,” the councilman said during a meeting last month.

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