By Henry Luzzatto
The youth baseball season is in full swing in Rockbridge County starting this week. However, because of the large number of young athletes, teams are struggling to find practice places.
The Rockbridge Area Recreation Organization (RARO) offers youth sports all year long, and serves hundreds of children throughout Rockbridge County. Last year, Buena Vista became part of the organization, which has caused participation to swell.
With such a large group, RARO needs to expand its practice fields to make room for all of its athletes, RARO leaders say. Starting this spring, RARO will renovate the Brewbaker Field Annex to create new practice fields for baseball, soccer and lacrosse.
John Trudgeon, executive director of RARO, said that the organization has had a shortage of space available for teams to practice, causing scheduling problems for local teams.
Kristen Bailey, who has two children who play baseball through RARO, agrees that space has been a problem.
“We had to practice out at the Natural Bridge Elementary field,” Bailey said. “It takes about 40 minutes to get there. We had to go out there because there isn’t enough space in Lexington.”
The planned renovations to the Brewbaker Field Annex would turn the two-acre complex into a baseball diamond and a field that could be used for either soccer or lacrosse.
The renovations will cost nearly $180,000 to construct the baseball diamond, plant grass on the field, and build a chain link fence around the perimeter.
Trudgeon said funding for the project will come from several sources, including the city of Lexington, Rockbridge County, Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.
“We’re about 60 percent to our goal from financial support from the city, the county, universities and clubs,” Trudgeon said.
Lexington and Rockbridge County each allotted $25,000 to the project in their capital improvement plans.
Trudgeon also said that a public fundraising event is being planned. An online crowdfunding platform is also being established to continue raising money.
An influx of new athletes from Buena Vista, as well as increased enrollment throughout the county, means demands on the fields are high.
“With the addition of Buena Vista teams, we’ve got more sports,” Trudgeon said. “It won’t totally solve field issues, but [the new practice fields] will help.”
Bailey said that the lack of space has been exacerbated by the construction at Harrington Waddell Elementary School.
“There was at least one baseball field at Waddell,” which is now unusable because of the construction, Bailey said. “There are two at the [Waddell] mobile site that can’t be used anymore.”
Trudgeon said he hopes to begin the project as soon as the funds are raised, which he projects will happen in April. However, the field will not be available for use until fall of 2017 because it is necessary to seed the grass before construction starts, Trudgeon said. This leaves RARO—and the parents and children involved with the organization—with scheduling problems for the rest of the year.
“Parents are going to have to be flexible with where they practice and how much they drive,” Bailey said. “It’s going to be a tough season.”