CHESHIRE — Krista Hayes is no stranger to the Town Council Chamber.
As head of the local travel basketball program, Hayes has been advocating fiercely over the last few years for the Town of Cheshire to address an issue she believes is holding back youth programs. And now, she’s back in front of the Council asking for a resolution.
“When I initially took over the travel basketball program, I had no idea what roadblocks we would be facing.” Hayes said.
Those hurdles, Hayes mentioned, are vast, but the main one is the cost of renting municipal facilities to hold events.
“We have to pay such a large fee in order to use the facilities and hire an independent ‘building supervisor,’ which is usually just a custodian to watch us and let us into the building to practice.” Hayes said. “We also simply don’t have enough available space in town for us to practice as regularly as we need to in order for our teams to be competitive.”
According to Hayes, the custodians hired to cover practices are paid $65 an hour to watch the facilities and let the teams into the building — a cost she insists is unique to Cheshire because other towns simply provide custodial staff that the schools employ.
“Parents have to pay more to offset these fees that other towns just don’t (require),” she said.
At the Dec. 10 Town Council meeting, Hayes explained that, in the past year, “… We spent $21,000 for 90 kids, all Cheshire residents, to play basketball, while other towns have free use of school gyms without cost to the teams.”
Because the Cheshire Travel Basketball League is comprised only of children who are Cheshire residents, Hayes has noticed a dramatic decrease in enrollment, and presumes that many parents may be opting to sign their children up for travel basketball leagues based in other towns, such as Hamden, that allow members from out of town and can offer lower prices while offering more practice time.
Hayes also finds it difficult to secure gym space for all the teams to practice.
“We have to compete with school events, and school sports who take priority over us,” she said. “And they should take priority, but there should also be a place for us to be able to play.”
This isn’t the first time Hayes has voiced her concerns to the Council. Last year, she was able to secure a one-time fee discount, for which, Hayes states, she is grateful.
“What we were able to get from the town last year was great, but it was made clear to us that it was a one-time use and that’s all we would be getting,” she explained.
At the Dec. 10 meeting, Town Council Chair Rob Oris stated that he sympathizes with Hayes’ struggles and offered the Council’s help moving forward.
“The last time you came up here with this I promised you we would try and help,” he said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to collaborate much with the Board of Education this year, whom this (responsibility) falls on. We as a Town Council are waiting for the Board of Education and they just haven’t done anything. I suspect the Board election was a referendum on the last Board that was unable to do anything for you. We need to support you on this because I walked this with you last year and we got nothing done.”
Oris then called on newly-appointed Board of Education Chairman Tony Perugini, who was in the audience, to speak on the matter.
“This will be discussed at length in January when we begin our operating budget process … there are many sports group requests coming in and the charges will all be discussed,” Perugini promised.
The issues of cost do not just impact travel basketball, as the Cheshire Junior Cheerleaders squad, which recently finished in second place in their National Competition held in Florida, must also ask for significant financial contributions from members in order to secure facilities.
“We can only practice at Dodd because they are the only ones who have enough room to store our mats,” said Carolyn Dudeck, one of the coaches for the Cheshire Junior Cheerleading program. “And our practice schedule is left up to the Dodd calendar, so we can’t always meet regularly.”
Dudeck and Hayes, who are friends, realized that both programs were experiencing almost identical issues and have decided to tackle it as a united front.
“We noticed that, one day, we were both holding practices at Dodd, and the two building supervisors we (had hired) were chatting with each other in the hall,” Dudeck said. “We instantly thought, ‘Why should we have to hire two custodians separately, when the job can be easily accomplished by one?’”
Dudeck has also dealt with low enrollment numbers for her group and believes, just like Hayes, that increasing costs and lack of adequate practice time are the main reasons.
“Shelton and other towns have way-better advantages than we do here in Cheshire,” she explained. “They can meet much more regularly and the parents can afford the costs to sign their kids up out of town rather than here.”