Lutz Softball Inc., formerly known as the Lutz Leaguerettes, isn’t going to let a recent burglary ruin its season.
While still picking up the pieces from a March 8 break-in, the league is moving forward with practices and games, as usual.
“We are not going to have the girls suffer,” said Mike Cook, president of Lutz Softball.
“We’re still going to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and try to spin it in a positive direction, someway, somehow.”
Two suspects burglarized the Oscar Cooler Sports Complex in the early morning hours of March 8, causing losses in excess of $5,000.
While Hillsborough County owns the park, Lutz Softball has a field-usage agreement, working closely with the county’s parks and recreation department.
The hooded suspects stole approximately $1,000 in cash, $1,000 worth of sporting equipment, $1,500 in food, and caused $2,000 in property damage, according to information from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Released video surveillance footage shows the suspects used pry bars to break into the concession stand, office and equipment storage areas.
“They took whatever they could get their hands on,” the league president said.
The footage also shows the suspects loading the items into an unknown vehicle parked on the west side of Crooked Lane, just south of West Lutz Lake Fern Road.
Pilfered items included an 80-pound safe, safe shields, shin guards and softballs.
“It’s unfortunate they got into the equipment room,” Cook said. “I’m guessing it’s probably just stuff they can sell quick, and get a couple of bucks for.”
Bulk quantities of various concession items also were swiped by the burglars, the league president said.
“They took everything in the freezer,” Cook said. “They took the hot dogs, the buns, the cheese, the chicken tenders, the mozzarella sticks, the onion rings, the bacon —everything.”
The recreational fast pitch organization has created a GoFundMe page to recoup the thousands of dollars in losses.
So far, more than $1,000 has been raised, including numerous donations from players’ families.
“We’re a strong unit, a strong network,” Cook said, “and everybody’s come together on this.”
There will also be another major fundraising opportunity on April 1, when the league hosts its annual Super Saturday event.
Described as a “fun-filled day,” the event will feature a parent softball tournament, along with various games, a bounce house and dunk tank. There’s also a silent auction and basket raffles.
“It’s a huge day for us,” Cook said. “It’ll certainly help in recovering and recouping from (the burglary).”
To Cook, the hardest part to grasp from the incident is the impact on the league’s young players, who range from 5 to 18 years old.
“You’re not stealing from the parents there. You’re not stealing from the executive board. You’re stealing from these girls, who just want to go to a place where they’re not playing video games or hanging out on the street corner,” Cook said.
Besides raising money to replace lost items, the league is working with Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation to repair the broken locks and doors, and one of the damaged fields.
Cook noted the sports complex was last burglarized about three years ago.
Additional security measures to prevent a similar instance are being discussed with the league’s executive board, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out what the best route is, but we certainly want to upgrade our current surveillance system, with some other precautionary measures,” he said.
Besides the burglary, it’s been an eventful year-plus for the softball organization.
In January 2016, Lutz Softball announced it would offer a recreational fast-pitch league for the first time in its 37-year history.
Just six months later, the league discontinued its slow-pitch leagues altogether, citing dwindling registration figures and an overwhelming preference for fast-pitch.
Cook said the league now has about 200 girls (ages 5 to 18), the highest number since he joined the organization four years ago.
“The transition to fast pitch is going really, really well,” he said.
The Leaguerettes are a PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) Softball affiliate.
To donate, visit GoFundMe.com/eyqzb-lutz-softball.
Anyone with any information on the burglary is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at (813) 247-8200.
Published March 15, 2017