Officials are considering the possibility of gradually eliminating nonresidents from adult softball leagues run by the Parks and Recreation Department.
The discussion Wednesday revisited a controversial decision 10 years ago in which rec officials limited to three the number of nonresidents who could be on an adult softball team in order to free up field space for residents.
After the 2004 rule, the number of adult softball teams dropped to 39 in 2005 (from 97 in 2004) and the number of nonresidents on those teams dropped to 85 in 2005 (from 574 in 2004), according to a document reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission's Field Subcommittee.
Last year, the number of adult softball teams had climbed to 50 and the number of nonresidents on those teams rose to 113, according to the document.
On Wednesday, members of the Field Subcommittee discussed enacting a new rule that would prohibit nonresidents on adult softball teams in 2015 unless the nonresidents had been on a team roster this year. The proposed rule also would prohibit a non-resident to leave one team and join another, and also wouldn't allow that player's original team to fill his or her spot with another non-resident.
"As they leave the teams, little by little we will shrink the number of nonresidents," said Brian Nerreau, a member of the subcommittee.
The Field Subcommittee approved the proposed rule on a 3-0 vote, but the full Parks and Recreation Commission would have to approve it for it to take effect.
"So, we don't accept any new ones (nonresidents) in 2015 ... if it's voted on by the full commission," said Gerald Lombardo, director of the town's Parks and Recreation Department.
Patti Dyer, a subcommittee member, predicted a "backlash" if the commission tried to ban all nonresidents from adult softball teams in 2015.
But fellow subcommittee member Dorene Herron said it's a question of consistency since nonresidents are banned from other rec department programs.
"My feeling is we should be consistent," Herron said. "That's my thought process, and we need to do what we can to get there."
Before the vote, Herron said the options would be to prohibit any nonresidents on adult softball teams in 2015, or "if you register for a team in 2014 and want to re-register in 2015, you're grandfathered, but we're not taking any new nonresidents."
Nerreau said a "flurry of activity" may take place this year as adult softball teams look to place nonresidents onto teams so they're "grandfathered" for the 2015 season and beyond. Registration for this year doesn't end for at least another month.
Lombardo, however, noted that the cap of three nonresidents per team already is in place. But Nerreau said the potential exists for dozens of additional nonresidents to sign up this year if each team were to fill its limit of three per team.
Dyer, though, said, "It won't matter if they add people because we're not increasing the field space."
The non-resident rule from 2004 allowed any player on the same adult softball team continuously from 1983 to be grandfathered and also considered Fairfield town and Board of Education employees eligible regardless of where they live. The Field Subcommittee didn't propose any change to those parts of the 2004 rule. In 2013, nine players were grandfathered from 1983 and 12 players were town or school board employees who live in another town.
"If they're already grandfathered, they should stay grandfathered, and town employees should always have the ability to play," Dyer said.
Herron said, "I agree with that."
The debate in 2004 about nonresidents on adult softball teams run by the Parks and Recreation Department carried on for months, with many softball players saying their teams would be decimated if nonresidents were banned. Even with the compromise of allowing three nonresidents per team, the number of teams fell by 60 percent in 2005.
Nerreau didn't foresee such a dramatic drop if the proposed rule were to take effect. Rec officials said the average roster of an adult softball team is 16 players, and Nerreau said the 2013 statistics of 113 nonresidents on 50 teams meant an average of just over two non-residents per team,
"I don't think these teams are folding if a couple go out," he said.