Fitness club steps into scoreboard fracas

Sports & Fitness Edge offers to pay for $5,000 device

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A local health and fitness club has approached the Williston Little League about purchasing the electronic scoreboard that stands at the center of a current controversy, offering a potential alternative to Coca-Cola’s sponsorship.

Bob Fredette, the club manager of Sports & Fitness Edge, confirmed Friday that he had contacted the Little League about buying a digital scoreboard for the Community Park field. The scoreboard has an estimated price of $5,000 and would help the local Little League qualify to host regional competitions.

Fredette said the scoreboard represented an opportunity for the still-young fitness club, which is undergoing a large-scale expansion after just five years, to pay back its hometown.

“We’d like to contribute the scoreboard in order to help out the town of Williston,” Fredette said. “We feel that it is important that we make an investment in the community that has supported us so well.”

Coca-Cola has already offered to purchase the scoreboard for the Little League, but has run into resistance from the Selectboard. Zoning rules preclude advertising at the Community Park Little League field, and Coca-Cola would like a logo across the bottom of the scoreboard to illustrate its sponsorship.

Little League officials asked the Selectboard to approve an amendment to the zoning rules to allow for the advertising, but so far board members have largely appeared reluctant. The Little League would also like permission to post advertising banners on the Community Park field fence during the season; the revenue would be split between the league and the town.

In addition to zoning obstacles, some Selectboard members, most notably Chairwoman Ginny Lyons, have expressed concerns about having Coca-Cola as a sponsor for a youth recreational facility. Lyons has spoken of the negative effect she says soft drinks have on children’s health.

Lyons and some other Selectboard members have also repeatedly stated a preference for local businesses serving as sponsors for any advertising at the Little League field.

Lyons sounded pleased at the prospect of a local fitness club sponsoring the scoreboard, though she pointed out that the Selectboard has still not decided whether to allow the structure. She said a sponsor other than Coca-Cola could change how the Selectboard views the proposal.

“We’ve said from the beginning that that’s something we’re interested in looking at,” Lyons said.

Lyons said last week that she was unconvinced by arguments that Coca-Cola New England, a regional facility based in Colchester, qualified as a local business.

“Coca-Cola’s not local,” Lyons said. “I don’t care what anybody says.”

Mike Healey, the member of the Williston Little League Board of Directors who has been involved in the scoreboard discussions, said the Little League still supported Coca-Cola as a sponsor for the scoreboard because it had stepped forward first. However, Healey, who said the Little League has heard from another interested sponsor besides Sports and Fitness Edge, said the Little League was keeping its options open.

“But the issue’s not just Coca-Cola,” Healey said. “It’s advertising in general.”

Fredette said Sports and Fitness Edge would still consider purchasing the scoreboard even if no advertisement is allowed to accompany it.

“We’d like to have something like a logo on that, but if they don’t allow a logo, we feel like everyone in the community will know that it came from us,” Fredette said. “We feel like it’s the right thing to do and that it would be a way for us to help out.”

Last month, several Selectboard members expressed an interest in purchasing the scoreboard with $5,000 of town money — a suggestion that has prompted some strongly worded criticism. Selectboard member Terry Macaig said he had received between 10 and 15 e-mail messages and letters on the issue last week, though not all were negative. The Observer has also received several letters to the editor on the issue, each opposing the Selectboard’s stance.

The Selectboard is expected to take up the scoreboard discussion again at its Aug. 22 meeting.