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At a crossroads:

Messenger poll shows that 77 percent of parents worried about possible violence at

Knox Street Fields

By KEVIN PEARCEY

Sports Editor

Dan Smith has an old scoreboard on his wall at the Troy Parks and Recreation Department’s main office.

One team’s the Yankees. The other, the Cardinals. The Cardinals won that particular game 4-3. It was the first and only time that Dan Smith ever hit a home run, playing Little League baseball at Knox Field as a little boy.

"I found it in one of the storage sheds at Knox Field and thought it’d fill up wall space," said Smith, who’s the director of the TPRD.

The two baseball fields which make up the Knox-McGhee facility have been home to Troy recreation teams for over 50 years. While the older leagues have made the transition to the three-field Franklin Park facility near Edge Regional Medical Center, the city’s three youngest leagues – Capp (5-year-olds), Farm (6-7 year-olds) and Pre-Minor (8-year-olds) – still play at Knox and McGhee.

That was, until a few weeks ago.

On May 14, gunshots were fired outside McGhee Field while a game was in progress. Two night’s later, a 17-year-old scoreboard keeper was assaulted. Those two incidents caused Smith and Youth Sports Director Vaughn Daniels to hastily rearrange the schedule, moving games to the Troy Sportsplex for the remainder of the season.

Parents of children who play at the facility have voiced their concerns to Smith, Mayor Jimmy Lunsford and the Troy City Council.

"The phone was ringing off of the hook" said Lunsford at a council meeting last week. "That alone was enough for us to know we needed to look at all that was going on."

Describing the park’s closure as a "short-term" solution, the city council will review the matter in the future. Councilperson Wanda Moultry expressed concern that the children who live around the Knox-McGhee facility may not be able to find transportation to games next season were they to be moved to the Sportsplex.

Smith doesn’t have an answer but has talked to parents. Some are adamant that if the games are not moved permanently away from Knox and McGhee Field their children will not be participating in recreation baseball next year.

"It’s very sad that people would say that or even consider that, whether they are going to do it or not," said Smith. "But it’s a justifiable concern for the safety of their children. That is the primary concern."

Should the city even offer to place a permanent police officer in Knox and McGhee Field, Smith doesn’t feel that will be enough to appease most parents. He said incidents, such as the ones that took place in mid-May, are not isolated ones.

"This has been going on for 10 year or more," he said. "There is just a very, very uneasy feeling at that ball park. And rightfully so. It’s very common to be there and see police cars flying up and down that street because of the trouble that goes on up and down that street."

And Smith isn’t optimistic about the future.

"I do not anticipate the situation getting better in the long run," he said.

Smith has no problem with the three leagues playing at the Sportsplex, saying the only dilemma has been making sure teams had adequate practice time.

"Obviously, if you have fields you want to utilize all of them," he said. "Our youngsters are going to come first no matter where we play. What I hear, is that people are sentimental about the history (of Knox Street Fields), but they could care less about it when it comes down to the safety of the children. What they’re saying is, it’s a historic place but it’s not where we need to be."

Smith agrees that keeping Troy’s children safe may eventually outweigh sentimentality on this issue.

"I’m sure there’s a lot of people who had sentimental feelings about Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium or Kilby Hall at Troy State University," he said. "There’s lots of facilities in our world that have sentimental value but there are times to move on. And we may stay at Knox. I’m definitely not saying that we’ll never play there again, because I don’t know. I just know that I feel very uneasy about scheduling games there in the future based on the climate that has been going on for over a decade. This didn’t happen in one week."