Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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Let them play!

That was the cheer from the sequel to the Bad News Bears, a 1970s-era film from my youth about kids and baseball, from fans urging the powers-that-be to just let some kids compete on a major league field.

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You can’t help but have the same feelings come up when you hear the story of the Fullerton Bears.

This Sunday, County of Orange officials plan to pull the plug on a five-year field agreement they struck with the youth football and cheer team back in 2017.

Back then, a frustrated County Supervisor Shawn Nelson engaged youth league leader, Fred Jung, to help revamp a local sports field that had been largely abandoned by the county parks department, just off Rosecrans Avenue, near Clark Regional Park.

The youth league, which had supporters attend this week’s county supervisors meeting presenting emotional pleas for an extension, serves about 600 youth from some of the most working class areas of Fullerton.

Mary Teleson, a working class mom from Fullerton with three kids, came to the meeting to tell supervisors about her eight-year old son, who plays with the Bears and her daughter, who is in the cheer squad. She told supervisors the Clark sports complex has turned their lives around.

Yet after hearing about the field lease revocation, she told supervisors her boy was asking her “how can they do this to us.”

“If we lose this field, we’ll have to travel everywhere and most of our parents can’t afford to travel,” Teleson said.

Jung said the league, which he said charges the lowest registration rates in town, had bounced around several fields until they helped renovate the sports fields near Clark Regional Park in a unique arrangement and got an exclusive deal to use the fields.

Yet it seems that the Bears, which installed their own scoreboard at the county facility, have now become a victim of their own success.

In a rare move of hardball, OC Parks officials advised the Bears of their intent to revoke the roughly $10,000 annual rent contract because of non-payment – just after Nelson termed out last November.

Jung said there was confusion as to how the rent was to be paid, admitting the league missed a payment and was unsure on their contact at OC Parks.

Yet he was stunned when OC Parks abruptly pulled the plug.

There are lots of open questions about the harsh timing of the revocation as well as curiosities about whether these public fields might now be steered toward use by private club teams.

While the City of Fullerton parks department didn’t show much interest in the parcel historically, after the county parks department redeveloped it, that same city staff has now been tasked with managing the situation.

County officials, as is so often times the case in Orange County with leadership on issues, seem to be stepping back.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, a Democrat who now represents the Fourth District and is a former Fullerton Mayor, told me he has asked OC Parks to keep the City of Fullerton in charge of administering the fields on a “fair” basis to “all” teams.

Without any action from the county on the lease, the challenge now turns to Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer to consider the special circumstances behind the development of those sports fields and figure out a use agreement that can keep the Bears doing what they are doing for so many working class kids.

Folks like Fred Jung shouldn’t be left alone to figure out how to keep local kids busy.

It’s in all our best interests to keep the Bears hitting pads instead of the streets.

Indeed, County supervisors and their city colleagues should work diligently to ensure that any kid living in one of their districts could attend an inexpensive youth sports activity every day.

It’s an inexpensive way – especially when compared to the alternatives – to effectively enhance public safety and promote quality of life.

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