Organizers hope to unite youth recreation

LAKE WYLIE -- Community bonding and an economic boost were pitched as good reasons for uniting youth athletics under one banner, say organizers of the Lake Wylie Athletic Association.

Association members have been working for more than a year to expand the group to provide a variety of sports for children. Many Lake Wylie kids travel to Clover, York or Fort Mill to play sports, and organizer Perry Johnston thinks the growing area can support an expanded program.

"We think it's going to be a great thing for Lake Wylie," Johnston said. "This is adding a tremendous amount of organization to recreational needs that we've needed for a long time."

The association, which is applying for nonprofit status, begins its Little League baseball season with registration this month. Opening day is April 5. Eventually, the association plans to offer Pop Warner football, soccer, basketball and cheerleading.

"There were a lot of splinter programs out there, and what we want to do is bring them together under one roof," said Jack Sugameli, group president.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Lake Wylie population increased almost 18 percent from 1990 to 2000. York County grew 21 percent from the 2000 Census to 2006.

Working to offset costs

Members want to partner with local churches for indoor facilities for basketball and hope to one day share the use and maintenance of fields with schools. Already, they've used donations to improve a field at Bethel Elementary School, and they are constructing a new field near the Crowders Creek schools.

The group is offering sponsorship opportunities to raise money for the leagues, though much of the work is being done by volunteers.

Depending on how many kids sign up to play -- especially during the first football season -- the group will need to raise money for equipment. Possible fundraisers are being considered.

"First-year expenses are enormous because we have to buy equipment for everybody," Sugameli said. "Next year, the expenses will be about half."

The association would like to find at least one more field to use. Eventually, a larger site for community fields will be needed, said County Councilman Tom Smith, who represents the Lake Wylie area. He'd like to get the county involved, he said.

Smith, who has coached youth baseball locally for seven years, believes the county can negotiate agreements with developers to set aside fields. Two large tracts of land owned by Crescent Resources -- one near Crowders Creek -- are possible options, he said.

Long-term, Smith would like to see a 30- to 40-acre recreational complex with multiple fields for use, along with possible walking trails and picnic shelters, he said.

Organizers hope that having athletics and tournaments in the community will bring dollars to the area and that companies looking at the area will be drawn by opportunities for kids.

Most of all, though, Sugameli looks forward to the community gathering on opening day.

"I hope everybody's there," he said. "It'll be a lot of fun."