Changes made to Hopkinton State Fair parking fundraiser 

  • Rides near-ready for opening day are seen at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. The Midway opens at noon on Friday. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file)

Monitor staff
Sunday, July 23, 2017

After 50 years, the men’s softball league of Contoocook will no longer have sole control over the parking situation at the Hopkinton State Fair.

The Hopkinton select board agreed in June to a lottery-style system to determine which groups are allowed to park cars during the four-day fair at George’s Park (also known as Blood Field) after one of the groups complained about the men’s softball team’s handling of the fundraiser, according to Town Administrator Neal Cass. He said hecould not recall which group that was.

“It had been done for years sort of haphazardly,” he said recently. “Some of the groups weren’t getting along well. ... It was felt the groups needed a fair opportunity to participate, and the board determined that since the field is town property, it should really be the town that allocates how the property is used.”

The change came after Hopkinton boys’ baseball coach Dave Chase and Steve Yianakopolos, a member of the RedHawks cooperative varsity football team booster club, went to the town to ask for clarification on who had the authority to allow groups to park cars, according to Hopkinton Superintendent Steve Chamberlin. He said the town’s baseball team, as well as its basketball teams and the football team, all partake in the parking fundraiser, and while Chamberlin can approve school organizations’ fundraising concepts, it is ultimately up to the town to grant approval for use of town property.

“I appreciate the town for providing clarity on the situation and continuing to let school groups raise money,” he said.

Shawn McCluskey, one of the softball league’s commissioners, called the decision “disappointing,” saying the agreement to allow the league to control the parking was “based on a handshake” with former Recreation Committee members Barbara Boatwright and Mark Bates. There is no written record of the agreement, he said.

“It’s town politics, to put it nicely,” McCluskey said.

But Dave Chase, who was initially hesitant to explain why he went to the town, ultimately said he did so because he felt it wasn’t fair that the men’s softball league would make money off the students’ fundraising efforts. He said he supported the select board’s decision.

“Even if we don’t get picked this year, at least we know it was fair and drawn out of a hat,” he said.

How the boys’ baseball team came to partake in the fundraising effort differs depending on whom you ask.

Men’s softball league treasurer Jeff Donohoe said the softball team opened the fundraiser up to other teams after they had a hard time recruiting enough people to staff all four days of the event. The deal, he said, was that each team would pay the softball league 25 percent of what they earned and keep the rest. Parking cars is the league’s only fundraiser, he said.

The baseball team wanted in on the fundraiser 10 to 15 years ago, and both teams agreed the baseball team would not pay for the chance to park cars because several baseball team members join the league after they graduate from high school.

The change came, Donohoe said, when the town’s recreation department took down the field’s lights because they were a safety hazard. The lights are estimated to cost $75,000 to $125,000; the plan, he said, was to raise 25 percent of the total cost of the lights and then put forward a warrant article this March to have the town come up with the rest. He said the softball league planned to either change the fee they were asking groups to contribute or ask the baseball team to start contributing.

McCluskey said the system was fair, and when more groups expressed interest in partaking, the league had discussed creating a lottery system similar to the town’s.

“We were letting everyone have a crack at it,” he said.

Chase noted that the team has been parking cars near the woods of George’s Park for 15 years, near the back of where the softball league parks cars. He said sometime in the last few years, the league approached him and agreed to continue to let the boys’ softball team park their cars without a fee.

But when the softball league asked the baseball team to start contributing, Chase balked.

“I’m not looking for a witch hunt,” he said, “but it’s town property, and the town should decide who gets to use it.”

At least one other leader of a group who parks cars during the fair agreed. Steve Signor, the coach of the boys’ basketball team, said that while he didn’t like the lottery system, he agreed it was fair.

“I’m just glad we’re allowed to participate,” he said.

The select board is scheduled to pick organizations at random for the fair parking on Monday, and the deadline to submit a request has passed.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ActualCAndrews.)