As the arms race intensifies to build bigger, better and more sophisticated sports venues, the cost of maintenance has spiraled upwards as well. But one organization has come up with a novel solution: having players, including youth, help maintain the complex instead of paying a registration fee.
The BIG Vision Foundation, a nonprofit organization which manages and maintains the BIG Vision Sports Complex in Berks County, Pennsylvania, promotes volunteerism and giving back. As an extension of that, the foundation launched its "Work Hard, Play Hard" program, in which players provide community service hours by helping to maintain the complex and helping other local non-profit organizations as well.
It started when Dan Clouser, BIG Vision’s president, heard that youth sports tourism was a $9 billion industry. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but what worried him was the fact that the industry was losing players who had talent but couldn’t pay the fees travel sports were charging.
“Instead of being one of the few venues in which an individual could excel solely on his or her talents, we were now making it about money," Clouser said. "We were making travel sports into something that only mid-upper-class kids could participate in."
What if, Clouser thought, you got rid of the participation fees that were such an obstacle, and instead encouraged the athletes to participate in ballpark upkeep, as well as in volunteering for other groups as well? It would drive community involvement starting at a young age – and additionally would result in economic benefits to the local economy.
Less than a year later, eight softball and baseball teams play on the fields – and do upkeep on them as well. And the complex itself is a far cry from a community sandlot: a pet-friendly, 130-acre outdoor venue with eight diamond sport fields, four multi-purpose fields and running/walking trails throughout. Its 108-acre North Campus includes a replica of Fenway Park. The South Campus fields are set to be renovated to synthetic turf through a unique partnership with both the Cal Ripken Senior Foundation and the MLB Players Alumni Association, through Ripken's Youth Development Park program.
In addition to over 30 weekends of youth sports tournaments, the complex is also home of the BIG 5 Conference baseball and soccer leagues, GRYP co-ed flag football and kickball leagues, 5K runs, outdoor movie nights and several other community activities throughout the spring, summer and fall. The BIG Vision Sports Complex is also the home of both Berkshire Baseball and FC Revolution, two premier youth sports organizations.
According to figures provided by the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, the events held at the facility generate upwards of $5 million for the local economy.
But BIG Vision is far from the only field to use youth volunteerism to drive down the cost of maintenance. Multiple programs host field clean-up days and some pro teams have partnered with local youth organizations to help repair dilapidated fields and equipment, promoting a sense of investment.