The YM-Bubble-A

How the Y became a dangerous foreign threat to Park Cities teens

For the last year, the Park Cities YMCA, which lies at the social heart of ultra-competitive, affluent, sports- and youth-minded Highland Park and University Park, has been engaged in a bitter battle for its soul. That's a lot of battling over what may turn out to have been a small prize anyway.

The Y wanted to build a new teen center. But the people of the Park Cities were worried that a Young Men's Christian Association teen center might attract young Christian men from outside the moated walls of their own community.

At town meetings and in fliers distributed door-to-door, opponents of the Y plan said they would go along with zoning for the new teen center only if membership were barred to non-residents of the Park Cities. And for months, officials for the Park Cities Y kept making noises as if that idea or something close to it might be doable. At worst, they said, the membership might be 20 percent non-Park Cities.

Rand Carlson

Way too much, the critics told the University Park Planning and Zoning Commission. How about zero?

It's hard to understand. In theological terms, think of it this way: You have Christianity. Then you have your Park Cities Christianity. Picture it as a subset of the main religion.

But now, no matter which kind of Christianity it espouses, the Park Cities Y is in a fix. On November 2, the University Park City Council gave tentative approval to zoning for the teen center with an explicit no-wiggle-room fiat attached: "Membership in the teen center is limited to residents of University Park, Highland Park and the Highland Park Independent School District and their bona fide guests."

Faced with a provision that would set in concrete geographical bars to membership, the Park Cities Y leadership finally backed off from its earlier suggestions that something along these lines might be sort of probably be the outcome anyway, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. In a change of tone equivalent to David McDavid the car dealer suddenly channeling Martin Luther, the chairman of the Park Cities Y told The Dallas Morning News in no uncertain terms, "Limiting the membership geographically is unacceptable."

Chairman Randy Garrett and other Y officials gave the impression that the main problem with a geographical limit on membership was the conflict it would pose with the Y's "mission statement."

No kidding. The mission statement of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas says: "The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is a human care organization based on Christian values that promotes, through its programs, the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals of all religions, races, ages and communities."

Let's see if we could come up with a blended version:

"The Park Cities YMCA is a human care organization based on Christian values that promotes, through its programs, the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of residents of University Park, Highland Park and the Highland Park Independent School District and their bona fide guests."

The darned thing just doesn't read right, does it?

But there is an intriguing mystery here: Why, if the mission statement wasn't much of a problem all year long during the debate leading up to this moment, did the Y suddenly raise the sword of principle when explicitly geographical language got into a proposed ordinance?

For most of the last year, Garrett and other Park Cities Y officials felt fine about promising other kinds of bars and limits to outside membership. According to the minutes of the University Park Planning and Zoning Commission, Garrett promised them last August 30 that membership in the teen center would be limited to people who already belonged to the Park Cities YMCA on Preston Road. Park Cities Y director Don Hannah said membership in the Park Cities Y was 80 percent Park Cities residents.

Unspoken but implicit in this arrangement was a double-hit on membership fees. First you have to pay $100 to join the Park Cities Y and agree to pay annual membership fees of $588 (as opposed to $50 to join the Park South YMCA in southern Dallas and annual fees of $288). So there's about $600 a year. Then, on top of that, there would be a fee of $300 to $400 a year for the teen center. About a grand a year.

In fact, if your family already belonged to Park South and for some peculiar reason you wanted your kid to go play basketball with the wealthy white kids at the Park Cities teen center, it would cost you more like $1,300 a year, because in order to play there you would have to belong to three Ys simultaneously -- counting the teen center.

That should have worked perfectly. If that was morally acceptable to the Y, why not the geographical barriers?

I have a disadvantage here in trying to answer this question, because hardly anyone from the YMCA would talk with me about it at any length. I spent a week trying to reach Ben Casey Jr., chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Y. I called back and pleaded that I would talk to any Metropolitan Y official in Casey's stead. I also put a call in early in the week to Arnie Collins, spokesman of the YMCA of the USA in Chicago, and explained that I needed some help with the issue of geographical bars to membership in the Y. He promised to call back. He didn't. Nobody did. My subsequent pleas for help were of no avail.

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