ACLU Joins Bonifay Baseball Dispute

A battle is brewing in Bonifay over the future of Dixie Little Major League Baseball.

The First Baptist Church of Bonifay, which manages the publicly owned Holmes County recreation fields, doesn't want Dixie playing there anymore. This is stirring up a major league controversy.

In just a few months the fields at the Holmes County Recreation Center will be filled with hundreds of kids playing baseball, but what team the kids are playing for, and in what league, is in question.

Twelve years ago the city asked the First Baptist Church of Bonifay to take over management of the ball fields. The agreement included a lease to the publicly-owned park.

Now the church is trying to stop Dixie Youth Baseball from stepping-up to the plate by banning the league from playing on the fields.

Even the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, is getting involved on behalf of the youth league.
In a letter to Bonifay city officials, the church says families deserve to play in a ball park without profanity and fighting among the coaches, parents and umpires.

Debbie Russ, who first called attention to the church ban, has two kids in the Dixie Youth League. She's also a member of the church.

"I appreciate the fact the church took over the rec. center when the city didn't want to run it anymore. I mean I've always said I appreciate it. They're taking it the wrong way."

Russ is not alone. Other parents like Susan Watson and community leaders are upset about the church benching a public league from using the publicly owned park.

"We're concerned that the First Baptist Church of Bonifay is playing playground bully and is trying to prevent 280 children from the Dixie Youth program from playing ball."

NewsChannel Seven spoke to Bonifay Police Chief Ronny Bennett. He admits the Dixie League has had problems with parents fighting, but he says the church run leagues have the same problems.

Dixie Youth parents took their fight to the Bonifay City Commission. City officials produced the original management agreement with the church, but could not produce a lease. Regardless, the city said it had no problem with the church's decision to ban the Dixie Youth League.

But apparently the state does have a problem. The Florida Department of Community Affairs sent a letter to the city of Bonifay saying it must admit the Dixie Youth League, or face sanctions.

Until the church, the city, the state or the courts can sort out this matter, the Dixie Youth players are in a league without a home field.

Despite the lack of a ball field, Dixie Youth league officials say their season will go on as scheduled. Sign-ups begin this Saturday.

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