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City bans playing ball in its parks

There's a small, shady park right across the street. Linda Bischoff only wishes her three sons could play baseball there.

The boys, ages 7, 9 and 10, used to play Wiffle ball on the neatly trimmed grass in Poplar Park, but not now.

Mom and Dad are not keeping them out. City fathers are. They passed an ordinance banning ball playing in all but two city parks.

"It's ridiculous," said Bischoff, 37. "Since they made that rule, the park hardly gets used."

Hounded by property owners who live next to parks and by civic groups who planted flowers in them, the City Commission voted 2-1 last week to adopt the ordinance.

The ban, which takes effect July 30, restricts ball playing to Fox Park and Maxwell Field in the center of town. Get caught with a ball in at least 15 other neighborhood parks and it could mean an arrest.

The ordinance does not set penalties for violators. A municipal judge likely would impose a fine after a second offense, Mayor Fred Wager said. If a juvenile gets caught, his or her parent could be liable, Wager said.

"It just all around doesn't make sense," said City Commissioner Duane Sloan, who voted against it.

The Cape May County resort, which has 4,484 year-round residents and thousands more visitors in summer, has fallen on hard times in recent years. Officials hope to reclaim its image as a family vacation spot _ but critics say they're going about it in strange ways.

The ball-playing ban sends the wrong message, opponents say. The city might as well tell kids to go play in traffic, resident Jack Dever told commissioners before the vote.

Robert Culligan, 15, was told about the ban as he dribbled a basketball along New Jersey Avenue. His response: "Then they'll start wondering why the kids get in trouble."

Wager, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said it was drafted in response to complaints from residents who grew tired of seeing flower gardens in the parks trampled by children.

"We've planted a lot of flowers but the kids wreck them, playing ball and breaking bushes, trees and flowers," he said.

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