School playgrounds could open to public after hours

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Efforts to open school playgrounds to kids for after-hours play have been thwarted in recent years because schools fear being sued, but supporters have a strong new ally.

If the legislation passes, school facilities could be open to the public as early as this fall.

School playgrounds make for great fun during the day, but sometimes kids find themselves fenced and locked out after hours.

Jacksonville Jaguar Cornerback Alan Ball wants to change that.

"I'm going to make myself available no matter what," Ball said.

He spent the day walking the hallways of the state Capitol building, trying to open the playgrounds and give kids a place to go.

"They don't understand why they can't go to that playground," Ball said. "To them it's, 'What's the alternative?' And to a lot of kids the alternative  is, 'Lets go home and play video games,' or 'Lets go text each other on the iPhone,' or 'Lets go play on our tablet.'"

Ball is volunteering his time as part of the NFL's Play 60 program. Legislation to open the playgrounds has passed the House for two years in a row, but never gotten a hearing in the Senate.

What has derailed the legislation in the past is the fear school districts have of being sued -- sued for anything and everything.

Under the legislation, schools won't be forced to open the playgrounds, but if they do, the possibility of being sued will be reduced unless they commit gross negligence.

The American Heart Association has made the playground legislation a top priority.

"We have publicly funded taxpayer playgrounds in these high schools and public schools, and they are in these neighborhoods that are not being utilized, and we're paying for them and they should be open to the public," said David Francis of American Heart Association Southeast.

Ball hopes opening school playgrounds and his status as a role model will inspire kids to drop their gaming devices and play actual games for a change.

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