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Recreation club presidents are worried about the future of youth sports in Roanoke after the city pulled its funding for the program.

In mid-June, the Roanoke City Council approved next fiscal year’s budget, which included an $80,000 cut to its administrative support of the parks and recreation department’s youth sports clubs. The four independent clubs — Star City, Williamson Road, South City and Greater Southwest Athletics — are based in different areas of the city.

South City President Linda Smith said the loss of funding is a death sentence for her recreation club.

“It’s affecting us really, really seriously,” Smith said. “I understand that some of the other rec clubs are in better financial places, but we’re in a lower income area, and we just don’t have the money.”

Smith said the South City club serves between 300 and 500 youth. About 65% of those kids can’t afford the $45 it costs to play, so the club raises money to pay their fees. Now that the club has to cover more of the costs to run the league, they aren’t sure they can continue without charging higher fees their youth won’t be able to afford.

“Our community’s still trying to work on it,” Smith said. “We haven’t given up yet, but I just don’t know how we’re going to do it without some kind of sponsorship.”

City Manager Bob Cowell said the finance staff had to cut $2 million to balance the budget after revenue losses from COVID-19. The city also created a contingency fund if losses are worse than staff anticipated.

Cowell said some of the cuts could be restored if revenues do better than expected, or even more cuts could be needed if revenues don’t rebound.

“All of the reductions we put forward were necessary to balance the budget,” Cowell said. “We can’t offer that support to them any longer, but we will work with them to ensure youth sports can continue in the community.”

Ed Sparrow, president of the Greater Southwest Athletic Association, said the funding loss won’t drastically affect his club, but he worries about finding gyms and fields to play without the help of the city.

“That could be a killer for us,” he said. “The city would help negotiate with city schools and get practice times for us. Without the city’s involvement, we’re not sure if they’re going to let us use their facilities anymore as we try to keep playing.”

Cowell said the city plans to work with the leagues in finding places to play, but he isn’t sure what sort of precautions the schools will take opening their facilities due to COVID-19 health concerns.

But rec club presidents are mostly concerned about the loss for their kids, especially those who can’t afford to play in travel leagues or other, more expensive clubs.

“We offer the opportunity for everyone to play rec sports,” Sparrow said. “They’re killing it over $80,000, which is $4 per kid. We’re not under the assumption these kids are going to play professionally. They’re part of a team, they’re having fun, getting some exercise and learning a little bit.”

Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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