CLAYTON -- A student advocate at Clayton High School, Coach Marlon Lee has taken his commitment to keeping kids in school and out of trouble beyond the classroom.
Earlier this summer, Lee, a Smithfield resident, began petitioning the Smithfield town council to make an effort at restoring Smith-Collins park, a park in East Smithfield that Lee described as being in poor condition.
His hope is to get the park restored to a point where the local kids can have a place to play and participate in parks and recreation activities, giving them an alternative to falling in with the wrong crowd.
After visiting the park for a charity event by a local church in June, Lee said he was dismayed to see the deteriorated condition of a park where he had grown up playing T-ball and watching his father umpire baseball games.
Lee took a series of photographs of the park exhibiting a cracked basketball court, rusted basketball goals, overgrown shrubbery around the softball field, and a lack of picnic tables and water fountain. Lee sent the photographs to town council members and Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Tim Johnson.
The town agreed to allocate some funding to the park to resurface the basketball court and to replace an old picnic shelter with a larger one, along with picnic tables and grills.
Lee returned to the Smithfield council on Sept. 4 to speak about the park’s renovation again and make sure plans were still moving along.
“I definitely wanted to come through again. I didn’t want it to be a one-time thing, where I went the first time and left it alone. I came (Tuesday night) just to let ‘em know that I was serious about what I was doing,” Lee said.
At the meeting, Lee said the council discussed further renovations, including installing lights over the baseball field.
This week, Lee will sit down with the town manager and council members to discuss other needs in East Smithfield.
“It’s not just the pool or the park. Streets need to be paved – it’s a lot of things within the community,” Lee said.
A neighborhood pool situated across from Smith-Collins park closed two years ago, and Lee says the lack of resources on that side of town negatively impacts the children living there. He’s hoping the town can somehow reopen that pool, which cost children only $1 or $1.50 to use.
“A lot of the kids that live on that side of town, they can’t afford to go to the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center, and when kids don’t have anything positive to do, that’s when they’re gonna get in trouble,” Lee said.
Tim Johnson, the Smithfield parks and recreation director, said Smith-Collins, along with all of Smithfield’s parks, hadn’t seen much improvement in the last four or five years because of budget woes. It didn’t help that Smith-Collins is a particularly old park, he said.
The town also hadn’t been scheduling any team games at the park, opting to rent out other fields that have since been developed. Now, Johnson said Smith-Collins can expect to be back on the ballgame schedule for the spring.
“We had not needed it for a long period of time, and to be able to use it, the lighting was gonna have to be replaced and the funds weren’t there to do that,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the park had also suffered some vandalism, including an incident where basketball court lights were allegedly shot out. Johnson said he hopes the community will take new ownership of the park once it’s improved.
“Our hope is now that with the community’s interest in it, they’ll will be more watchful and more interested in getting things going over there,” Johnson said.
On Oct. 6, Lee is planning to hold a neighborhood cookout to draw folks to the park and renew interest in it as a community gathering place.
“One thing is getting it presentable, and then we’ll start using it,” Lee said.