Iredell-Statesville Schools officials, Iredell County officials and representatives of various youth athletics organizations gathered Thursday afternoon for the first meeting of a youth sports task force.

I-SS Superintendent Jeff James welcomed around 20 people for the meeting at the Career Academy and Technical School in Troutman.

“We have grown so big. What worked 10 years ago doesn’t work now. The county has doubled in size,” James explained. “There’s a lot of youth playing, which is great, but we don’t have a good clean process.”

The superintendent said that there are five or six youth sports organizations that work independently of each other throughout the county.

“The goal is to have a sort of umbrella of set of rules, financial regulations, so that we are held to the same standard and don’t have issues between clubs,” he said.

“We need some guidelines that everyone in the county can go by. When things happen, we need to hold individuals accountable so that it doesn’t impact our kids,” he added.

One of the main issues is that the sports associations, nonprofits and clubs in Iredell County are managed independently. The county and school system have little say in the operations of these entities – and no oversight.

County and school district involvement in these matters only comes into play when the associations use facilities owned by I-SS or the county.

The I-SS Board of Education voted this summer to form the task force after one of the local leagues voted to disband and form a new league — and exclude N.B. Mills Elementary from participating. After an N.B. Mills coach complained, the school board voted to require youth sports leagues to pay standard rates to use district facilities unless all students were included. County commissioners then sent out a news release explaining that the county would withhold the funding it provides the school district to cover expenses related to facilities use by youth sports leagues.

The focus of Thursday’s meetings was getting an understanding of the current state of youth sports and establishing priorities for the task force.

In small discussion groups, participants were asked to share what it will look like for kids if the task force is successful. They answers included the following:
♦ Every child can have an opportunity to play;
♦ All kids and spectators are able to watch in a safe environment; and
♦ Every kid has the opportunity to have fun.

I-SS facilitators Jonathan Ribbeck and Sherrard Martin asked the participants to work in small groups and capture the input from each team member about what’s working and what’s not working, and what suggestions that they have for improvement.

The answers for what’s working included: soccer program in Statesville, Babe Ruth Baseball, the I-SS facilities-use program, smaller leagues, and other organizational highlights.

The groups’ responses for what’s not working included accountability, code of ethics, enforcement of rules, leadership at the association level, safety issues, no governing body to deal with disruptive parents, lack of transparency in finances and other related issues with who is in charge.

The suggestions for what can be done to improve the situation included adding paid staff to resolve issues, improved accountability, creating districts within the county, get municipalities involved and more oversight.

Ribbeck and Martin asked the group to think about overall common themes, topics or action steps. The following topics emerged:
♦ Oversight for organizations;
♦ Consistency across the board; and
♦ Look at what’s working locally and across the state

The following individuals volunteered to serve on committees:

• Daniel Lewis, City of Statesville,
• Greg Harrison, Cloverleaf Elementary,
• Deree Martin, Central Elementary,
• Tracy Sain, ARS Youth Athletics Association,
• Ricky Driver, Harmony Elementary,
• Bobby Deal, I-SS; and
• Mike Tsitouris

“My hope is that among this collective group of people we all work as a team. Our goal is to come up with some structure … that works,” James said.

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