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City, county parks take more steps to reopen

You may soon hear the sounds of baseballs smacking into leather mitts or being launched off metal bats at Bowling Green and Warren County parks as state restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic ease up a bit.

But don’t expect to see or hear any activity from the popular Russell Sims Aquatic Center anytime soon.

Following guidelines established by Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration that allowed as of Monday gatherings of up to 50 people, some city and county youth baseball leagues have started practicing and could begin competition next week.

“We have our sports fields open, and our Babe Ruth and Little League teams have been practicing with 10 or fewer players and one coach,” said Brent Belcher, parks and recreation director for the city of Bowling Green. “We’ll be phasing into an abbreviated season.”

Belcher isn’t sure when those leagues will begin having games.

“I really don’t think we’ll have games anytime soon. The kids are still getting into the practice routine,” he said.

One thing Belcher is certain of: the Russell Sims Aquatic Center and the Sprayground at Lampkin Park won’t be opening anytime soon, despite Beshear’s announcement that public pools could open this week.

“We don’t have a date for opening (the pool),” Belcher said. “We feel like it’s in the best interest of protecting the safety of residents to keep it closed for now. We’ll see how we progress with the opening of other parks facilities. There are a lot of unknowns now.”

Belcher did say the outdoor fitness center at Preston Miller Park and the indoor fitness facility at the Moxley Community Center are open, with limitations. More than half the equipment at the indoor facility is blocked off to allow for social distancing, for example.

Warren County Parks and Recreation Director Chris Kummer said Warren County South and Warren County North Little League baseball teams have been practicing, along with the county’s Cal Ripken baseball teams.

They could begin competition as soon as July 6, Kummer said, but the games will happen only under some strict guidelines.

No more than 50 spectators will be allowed at each of the fields being utilized. Kummer said a limited number of fields are being used, and he said the bleachers are closed at all of them.

“We’re encouraging people to bring their own lawn chairs,” Kummer said. “And we’re encouraging people to wear masks.”

Kummer said hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at all parks, along with signs that spell out the rules for park activities during the pandemic.

“We’re looking forward to seeing people in the parks, but the capacity will be greatly reduced,” he said.

Kummer said the playgrounds at county parks will remain closed for now.

"We'll keep our playgrounds closed until the state issues guidance in regards to playgrounds," Kummer said.

Gymnasiums at Buchanon, Phil Moore and Ephram White parks are expected to open as soon as July 6, Kummer said, but they will be operating under strict guidelines that include mask-wearing and temperature checks.

“We need the public’s support to keep everybody safe,” Kummer said. “If we all work together, we can make it happen.”

Belcher said operating under the coronavirus restrictions is particularly difficult during the warmer months when people want to be outside enjoying the parks.

“This is a trying time for all parks departments,” he said. “This should be the peak time of the year for parks, but we’ve had to throttle that down to meet state requirements.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Refugee students earn college scholarships

Four refugee students were beneficiaries Monday of the Martha Ann “Mom” Deputy Scholarship Fund, which gives $1,000 to refugees pursuing college degrees.

Three of the students – E Myo Zin, Hsaw Reh and Rhina Solorzano – met in Fountain Square Park to receive certificates. Dim Sian Nuam, who couldn’t attend, was the fourth recipient.

“I am very grateful to have received this scholarship,” said Zin, a biology student at Western Kentucky University. “As a first-generation immigrant, and the first in my family to attend college, any support I can get to ease the financial stresses that come with higher education is greatly appreciated by me and my family.”

Zin came to the U.S. in 2009 when she was 8 years old after spending most of her life at a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

Although she cherishes her memories in the camp, she appreciates the opportunity to pursue an education, as she wrote in her scholarship essay.

“My desire to learn was no longer a desire but a right,” she said in her essay.

She said she had to work harder than most of her peers because of the language and cultural barriers, which the other recipients mentioned in their essays.

Reh also came to the U.S. from a camp in Thailand in 2009. He spent a few months learning English before starting second grade, but it was several more years before he finished learning basic English.

Although he lived uncomfortably in the camp, he said his experience there helped him be a better person and he wants to give back to the community. He will begin his freshman year at WKU this fall where he will study mechanical engineering.

Nuam, a WKU sophomore who also earned the scholarship in 2019, recounted a similar experience, but she did not start school in the U.S. until ninth grade.

“Adapting to the new cultures, new languages and new food was just really challenging for me,” she said in her essay.

But she then explained how grateful she is for the opportunities she has in the U.S., which motivates her when life gets hard.

The Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky, which builds and oversees a variety of endowment funds, helps fund the awards each year. This particular fund has now given $21,000 since its inception in 2016, said Jennifer Wethington, the foundation’s executive director.

“They are very humble and appreciative,” she said of the students. “Their life is so different from kids in America. We take it for granted.”

The fund was named after Deputy because of her passion for helping refugees transition to the U.S., which included opening Bowling Green’s International Center in 1981. Deputy, who died in 2015, is often called “Mom” because she never turned down anyone in need.

“She’d be honored this is in her name,” said Kathy Hunt, Deputy’s sister. “She’d be so happy.”

Doug Hawkins

BGPD Chief Hawkins to retire

Bowling Green Police Department Chief Doug Hawkins announced Monday his intent to retire as the city’s police chief.

Hawkins, who joined the BGPD in 1990 and became the agency’s chief in 2006, said in a statement that his retirement will take effect Aug. 1.

“I end my career as I began my career – hoping my service has made a positive difference in the individual lives of those I’ve served and interacted with, in my agency that I am so proud of, and in my community that I have tried to make a little better every day throughout my career,” Hawkins said in a two-page statement posted Monday on the BGPD’s Facebook page.

Hawkins turns 57 later this year, and the city enforces a mandatory retirement age of 57 for its employees.

Hawkins declined to comment further on his retirement at this time beyond the statement posted on social media.

Born and raised in Louisville, Hawkins came to Bowling Green in 1982 to attend Western Kentucky University.

He joined the BGPD at a time when then-Chief Gary Raymer began placing an emphasis on community policing and building public trust in the agency among community members.

Hawkins rose steadily in the ranks during his career, being promoted to captain in 2000, assistant chief in 2004 and deputy chief two years later. A month after Hawkins was promoted to deputy chief, then-Chief Bill Waltrip announced his retirement, and Hawkins was named his successor in October 2006.

Hawkins credited his two predecessors for providing him with opportunities to grow professionally.

“I learned much about leadership from Chief Raymer as I watched him lead our agency through some important and transformational moments in our agency’s history throughout the first half of my career,” Hawkins said. “The breadth of experience provided to me by Chief Waltrip has served me well during my tenure as chief of police.”

Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, a one-time colleague of Hawkins’ at the BGPD, said the retiring chief’s efforts at recruiting new officers leaves the BGPD well-positioned for the future.

“I’ve appreciated Doug’s leadership over the last 14 years,” Wilkerson said. “He’s been a pretty steady hand at the helm in helping us continue to advance policing in our community.”

The mayor also lauded Hawkins for his support in developing the Bowling Green Law Enforcement Academy, which was dedicated this month and will allow new BGPD officers to train locally.

At the dedication ceremony for the academy, Hawkins said its establishment marked a seminal moment in the agency’s history that would improve the organization.

“I think (his efforts) have given us the best police department in the state and to end his career with bringing the police academy to the community will help advance that cause,” Wilkerson said.

In his statement, Hawkins said the decision to retire has been “bittersweet,” but he was grateful for the support of his fellow officers.

“As a soon-to-be private citizen, it is confidence-inspiring to know what talented and capable leaders are remaining in our organization and ready to lead our agency forward,” Hawkins said.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.