American Legion Post 3 has had a long history in providing area American Legion Baseball to our youth, but can it survive in Lincoln, Nebraska?
What is Legion Baseball’s legacy and history? American Legion Baseball is a variety of amateur baseball played by 13-19 year olds in fifty states in the U.S. and Canada. More than 3,500 teams participate each year. Community service has always been a core value of The American Legion. In 1925, this commitment was furthered to include a baseball program. The American Legion Department of South Dakota established the baseball program in 1925 at Milbank, South Dakota. If you visit Milbank, you will find a monument that states, "In this city on July 17, 1925, by action of the South Dakota Department of The American Legion, the nationwide organization of Legion Junior Baseball was first proposed as a program of service to the youth of America." Our program in Lincoln still stands behind the traditional values upon which it was founded in 1925. American Legion Baseball has taught hundreds of thousands of young Americans the importance of sportsmanship, good health and active citizenship. The program is also a promoter of equality, making teammates out of young athletes regardless of their income levels or social standings.
The first American Legion Baseball World Series was held in Philadelphia in 1926. Yonkers, N.Y, Post 321 beat a team from Pocatello, Idaho, capping off what appeared to be a successful first season.
The league, however, hit a few growing pains in its second year. In 1927, the Legion's national convention convened in Paris. With the organization's financial coffers stretched thin from the trip's expenses, the Legion couldn't fund a World Series. No champion was named and the future of American Legion Baseball looked bleak, as the inaugural season wound up costing more than originally planned.
But the Legion's Americanism director, Dan Sowers, worked to keep the league afloat. The tournament format needed $50,000, and Sowers was determined to raise it. Early in 1928, he went to an executive meeting for professional baseball, hoping to reach a sympathetic ear. He found one in Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who pledged a $50,000 annual donation from Major League Baseball. Legion Baseball resumed in 1928, and by 1929 participants were coming from every state and the District of Columbia.
Major League Baseball and American Legion Baseball don't have a formal partnership, but the two owe each other a tremendous debt of gratitude. MLB has sponsored Legion Baseball almost since its inception, and Legion Baseball has returned the favor, churning out major league prospects since the alumni base has been old enough to be scouted.
Most of us associate Legion Baseball with Sherman Field in Lincoln. Built in 1947, Sherman Field is a premier baseball facility owned be the City of Lincoln. Sherman Field has had a long history, having been the home to the Lincoln Chiefs in the ‘40s and ‘50s, with well-known player like Satchel Paige, Nellie Fox, Bobby Shantz, Don Stuart, and Don Buford.
Starting in 1961, this historic site has been used for American Legion and high school baseball games. Many thousands of boys have learned to win and lose on this field. Some names you will recognize include Joba Chamberlain and Alex Gordon, both former Husker players who are now playing with Major League ball teams. All of this is in the past, so what about the future use of Sherman Field by our American Legion Post? Will Post 3 be able to financially support American Legion Baseball for another year? It’s very possible 2018 could see the end of American Legion Baseball in Lincoln. With the ever-increasing cost of field rents, the American Legion teams in Lincoln may have to find fields outside of Lincoln to play their games in 2018 and beyond.
At the end of the 2017 season found Post 3 Baseball finishing the season in the red losing an estimated $10,000. This happened even with Post 3 hosting a state tournament. We also saw 2016 finish the season at a loss of another $10,000. These loses are placing Post 3 and the baseball committee in a serious finical situation.
Post 3 also plays baseball at Densmore Park, and some of Lincoln Public Schools fields. The bills for field use from the City of Lincoln for Sherman field alone amounted to $25,003. This amount does not include the nearly $8,000 for of the use of Lincoln Public School fields. Clearly, attendance at the games is not large enough that it generates enough gate revenue to pay those kinds of bills. At the present time gate receipts is the only income generated for the program. The funds remaining in the baseball’s committee’s checking account are not sufficient to cover the cost of similar field
expenses next year. The upcoming 2018 season certainly could be in jeopardy. On top of the field rents, we have some umpire fees, baseballs, field maintenance, and other miscellaneous costs. The total cost for the 2017 season came to over $42,000.00. For Post 3 to continue its support of American Legion Baseball in Lincoln, we need to find a way to fund it, perhaps something in addition to what we receive through gate admissions. Unfortunately, gate fees fall far short in raising the kind of funds needed to continue support of the program.
The Commander, Adjutant, and some members of the Athletic Committee met with the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department in November to inform the city that unless things change, 2018 just might be the last season American Legion Baseball can be played on City of Lincoln fields, if at all. We reviewed the current contract and discussed items that needed to be negotiated before the 2018 contract is finalized. We learned some things during our meeting with the City, and they explained to us how they reach the rental costs for Sherman Field and other fields. We rent the field approximately two months from the end of May to end of July. The City calculates field usage, which includes all costs for labor, watering, lights, etc. They then assess Post 3 a percentage of those costs for the use of the field. The total costs being apportioned according to the number of games played by the organizations using the fields. The usage amount assessed to users in 2015 was 75%. That rate rose to 85% in 2016 and 2017. Apparently, the rate will remain at 85% in 2018 since the City stated they had planned to raise the usage rate to 90% in 2019.
The Lincoln Public Schools are under a long-term contract with the City, and it is difficult
for us to compare what we pay, to what they pay to confirm if the rates are similar and equitable.
The City does make adjustment against the rent we pay by taking into account the income
they receive from concession sales run by another organization, and income generated from sales taxes paid by non-resident teams coming into Lincoln to play baseball.
We also receive a credit of $9.50 per hour for volunteer hours expended at Sherman Field
operating the program and doing field maintenance, up to a maximum dollar amount of $5,918.00.
This amount has not been reached due to all volunteer hours not being recorded. There is also a question on what counts as volunteer hours. Members of the Baseball Association and Post 3 spend countless hours helping run the program and maintaining the field, but many hours do not qualify for reimbursement. This is an area where we can certainly help ourselves by better documenting the volunteer hours and verifying that we receive the proper and maximum credit.
The funds provided by team sponsors go to the teams, not to the Post 3 Athletic Committee. We receive zero dollars from the sponsors. Do sponsors need to be made aware that something extra is needed to maintain this program?
A meeting will take place in February to discuss with the Baseball organization and Post 3’s baseball committee to make them aware of the gravity of the situation and hopefully find a solution.
A number of things have been suggested to correct the financial deficits. Perhaps more season passes can be sold. The distribution of free passes should be limited or eliminated and their use being under the direct control of Post 3. Perhaps a
fund raiser of some kind needs to be held? Parents of American Legion baseball players who are eligible should be asked and encouraged to join the American Legion, Auxiliary, or Sons of the American Legion. Increasing attendance and gate receipts would unquestionably be a positive step, but the greatest relief can be provided by the City of Lincoln and the Lincoln Public Schools. They need to reexamine the rental fees for the fields if we are to have any real chance of surviving. American Legion Post 3 has a long history of taking care of
Sherman Field when it was falling into disrepair, when no one else would do it. Its appearance today is greatly responsible to the care and maintenance given by volunteers. Time has come for Post 3 to be given some help in keeping a most worthwhile program for the youth in Lincoln.
This does not have to be the end of the story.
Legion Post 3 Baseball Committee