In an effort to modernize its recreational offerings, Jefferson Parish is eliminating seasonal sports leagues at six of its community playgrounds and “reinventing” gymnasiums and fields for other uses.
The plan has angered some residents, who say they were left in the dark about the proposal. But parish officials say the changes reflect current usage.
On Friday, following a social media outcry, parish president Cynthia Lee Sheng announced a series of community meetings at each of the affected playgrounds to discuss the plan. The first date is Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Lemon Playground.
Residents of Jefferson Parish can ask Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng and Jefferson Parish Recreation Department Director Mario Ba…
However, changes are already underway. Lemon, Bright and Delta Playgrounds will no longer host their own basketball programs. Instead, their leagues will be grouped together in other playgrounds.
Mario Bazile, director of parks and recreation for the parish, said the changes are necessary because there are often not enough children to create teams.
“These kids don’t have the same experience as kids in bigger playgrounds,” Bazile said. “They are in dead-end playgrounds, where we don’t form any teams.”
Renovation of playgrounds
The six playgrounds selected for an overhaul — Avondale, Bridge City, Rosethorne, Lemon, Bright and Delta — will be redesigned for purposes that appeal to more parish residents, Bazile said.
Under concepts developed by the parish, Lemon Playground’s gymnasium would become a cheer and tumbling academy, with year-round programming. And his field would be converted into a lacrosse complex.
Yentl Logwood, president of booster club Lemon Playground, said she didn’t learn of the proposed changes until last week, when she was informed that basketball would not go as planned.
She was concerned that children in the surrounding area of Shrewsbury would not be able to afford to travel elsewhere and would lose the opportunity to play sports.
“I’m just trying to save our young people in our community and not push them away,” Logwood said. “I don’t want to see a kid who might be playing basketball turn someone away.”
Bazile said the parish is considering adding transportation to help children get to their new gymnasiums. Last year, the parish launched a pilot program where it transported athletes from Owens Playground elsewhere.
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Logwood said Lemon’s issues boiled down to management. She said the gym is supposed to be open six nights a week for free play, but it rarely is. The kids instead resorted to basketball under a nearby bridge.
“The gymnasium is just sitting there gathering dust,” Logwood said. “It would be used if we could use it.”
Bazile said he couldn’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding closed free play, but noted, “If gyms are locked, then there’s a reason.”
Bazile said that in 2021, Lemon Playground had 106 children participating in youth sports year-round. At Gerard Playground, which has a similarly sized staff, that number was over 2,500.
“Left in the Dark”
Raquel Muñoz, who coaches cheerleaders at Avondale, asked why the parish didn’t ask booster clubs — which raise funds for playgrounds and recruit kids for teams — to give their thoughts on the proposed changes.
“We want to know why we were left in the dark,” she said.
Bazile said after the parish collects feedback at community meetings, it will form steering committees that will include parents and produce timelines for implementation.
Bazile, who grew up playing and later coaching at Bright Playground, argued the changes were slow in coming. He noted that 40 years ago there were many more children in Jefferson Ward and many played multiple sports.
As demographics changed, attendance at some gyms dropped. He also said parents are more interested in “specialist” sports instruction.
“The things we’re doing now, we’re still ten or more years behind the country,” Bazile said.
Under the proposed concepts, the Avondale Playground would become a basketball academy, hosting leagues, clinics, and camps year-round, with free play also available to the community.
The Delta Playground would become a baseball and softball academy, complete with a batting lab, pitchers, and indoor batting cages. The Bright Playground, which currently has two tennis courts, would expand to 16 courts.
At the Bridge City Playground, which Bazile said hasn’t had children enrolled in sports for several years, the parish would set up an outdoor archery range, adjacent to the soccer and flag fields. -soccer.
The Rosethorne Playground in Lafitte, which was destroyed by Ida, would be redesigned as a fishing and entertainment center, with covered outdoor pavilions, multi-purpose courts, a walking path, and renovated tennis and pickleball courts.
“It is no longer about the playground itself. It’s about children,” Bazile said.