OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee Citizens Recreation Association (OCRA) made the difficult decision not to have a recreation football season this year.
President Ramona Baker said only 120 kids between the ages of 5-18, both boys and girls, signed up to play this year for the regular tackle and flag football programs.
While this might be considered a setback, Mrs. Baker will have none of it, and is more committed than ever to make the OCRA successful.
She said they will revitalize and reorganize and will plan the season better in 2016. It also gives the program some time to purchase badly needed equipment. With only about 80 helmets, no footballs and a scant number of usable shoulder pads, it was time to do some fundraising and upgrade equipment.
The OCRA lost some of the equipment due to elastic melting at non-climate controlled storage areas. To solve this problem they recently entered into a two-year lease to use the former home of the Okeechobee Parks and Recreation Department, the trailer at the sports complex. Parks and Recreation is now at the Health Department on Northwest Ninth Avenue.
Baker said many parents simply didn’t have the money this year for football.
They took signups in August, right when the parents are trying to budget for school supplies and clothes, and dealing with the threats of summer time hurricanes and the need for emergency supplies.
“It was not a good financial time and we need to do signups when people are not strapped for money,” she noted.
The program has come up with some help. They plan to offer discounts if you sign up kids for baseball/softball and football at the same time. You can save $10 for football. There is also a $5 discount for siblings who play the same sport. The league fees include $65 for t-ball, and $75 for baseball and softball.
The t-ball and baseball and softball seasons were a big success last year. The leagues had 650 kids play last spring compared to only 400 the year before. Signups will begin on Jan. 16, and continue on Jan. 23, Jan. 30 and Feb. 6 at the sports complex between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They will also sign up kids at the annual Okeechobee Health and Safety Expo at the Agri-Civic Center in January. The plan is to have the baseball and softball seasons begin earlier this year with practice to begin in the second week of February.
The OCRA board also continues to meet on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the trailer. They will also be holding elections in November.
The next meeting is on Thursday, Dec. 3. Bylaws require voters to have attended three monthly meetings in a row. At the present time only the current board and three additional members are eligible to vote. This does not mean they don’t need new board members and volunteers. Baker emphasized the league really needs help from Okeechobee.
“We need people from this community to come out and support us,” she added.
Baker said they plan to give every child that participates a medal this year.
They will also give out first-place trophies to all the division champions.
Another possibility is a switch from Dixie Youth baseball and softball to another league. Options include USSSA, Little League and Cal Ripken youth ball.
Baker said she was disappointed that Okeechobee’s bid for host of a state tournament went virtually unnoticed this year. Baker said she still hasn’t heard any response from the state Dixie Youth leaders. She said the community has a lot to offer with area motels, plenty of restaurants and activities for kids to do. Last year four girls softball teams and one boys team qualified for the state tournaments in north Florida. One boys team played at a state tournament in Sebring.
Baker said with all the travel-ball teams it might be better for Okeechobee to participate in leagues based on the Treasure Coast that are closer and more convenient.
The league is also looking for a football commissioner, softball commissioner and baseball commissioner that know all the rules and will address problems as they arise.
Baker said she’d also like to start a recreation sports league for Okeechobee kids with disabilities. The sports could include flag football, baseball and softball.
Board members and or volunteers currently working hard for OCRA include Tracy Sadler, Edmundo Cruz, Matt Durno, John L. Rhoden, John R. Rhoden, Kyle Buckner, Magda Leiva, Jessica Slovenski, Dora Seabolt, Jeff Brown and J.R Wilson.
More information about OCRA programs, can be found online and on the OCRA Facebook page. The OCRA phone number is 863-801-7505.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News