By Jackie Clifford
The walk from the parking lot to the football field is teeming with children shouting, parents cheering, and rogue footballs flying through the air. The dirt atop the baseball field is uneven as children form haphazard teams to play touch football. The field buzzes with anticipation as parents on the sidelines watch the clock on the Brewbaker Field scoreboard tick down to signal the beginning of the game.
This is Tuesday Night Football with the Rockbridge Area Recreation Organization (RARO). A large crowd has gathered to watch a group of seventh grade boys play America’s favorite sport.
Seamus Looney, the Bronco’s quarterback, is wearing pads, helmet and a jersey that reads 10. As the son and grandson of former college football players, he is ready to lead his team to victory. “I like that my family can watch me play,” Seamus says. As darkness falls, the lights increase a special feeling that he likes, he says.
RARO, shortly after it began in the late 1980s, replaced the recreation departments in Lexington and Rockbridge County. Last year, it did the same with Buena Vista’s recreation department, taking on about 400 additional youth. Since then, it has grown by another 200 or more. At an all-time record of 1,495 young participants, it continues to grow.
As a public authority funded mostly by the three local governments, RARO offers an array of youth sport teams, including football, soccer, cheerleading, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, baseball, softball, tennis and golf.
The rapid growth put pressure on RARO to create new practice fields, as the current fields at Brewbaker and Jordan’s Point are not enough.
The organization is just $20,000 shy of the $180,000 in donations it says it needs to build these fields in a 2.7-acre annex that is the other leg of the U-shaped Brewbaker Park that Lexington owns.
A family affair
The Looney family of Lexington is one that would benefit from the construction of these new fields. Pat and Mary Looney have three boys, Seamus, 12, Finn, and his twin Patrick, 8, who all participate in football with RARO.
“I think it’s awesome,” Mary Looney said. “Right now, the boys practice in the back of the (Lexington Baptist) church, which is just a plain field, no lines.”
“I think it’s awesome. Right now, the boys practice in the back of the (Lexington Baptist) church, which is just a plain field, no lines.”- Mary Looney
At Brewbaker this evening, Looney sits on the grassy sideline with Finn and Patrick to watch Seamus play. Seamus is the Bronco’s quarterback, but sometimes plays on defense too. His team is made up of 18 seventh graders, but only 15 are here tonight.
The two younger boys are not watching their brother play. Instead, they turn somersaults and roll down the slight slope their mother is sitting on. They can’t sit still. They must be rolling or wrestling or moving around in some way at all times. They are each allowed to have one Gatorade and split a package of Oreos from the cooler Looney brought. She was “snack mom” for the day and supplied for the whole team.
“Mommy, there’s no food,” Finn says. Usually there is a concession stand selling pizza, drinks and barbeque sandwiches for the spectators.
“Can we get pizza later?” Patrick asks. He wears a red and blue Captain America T-shirt and muddy sneakers that match his dirt brown hair.
“Yeah, pizza!” Finn cheers. Unlike his twin, he has blonde hair and a blue polo shirt, with the collar slightly popped on one side.
“Maybe we’ll get some on the way home,” Looney says.
This is a typical Tuesday night for the Looneys. The family comes every week to cheer on the Broncos. This is the first game that the dad, Pat, has missed. He is out of town for his job, but Mary keeps him updated with texts every time either of the teams scores.
The twins usually run off to play with their friends and other younger kids. There’s always a football thrown around or a game of tag that they can join. Today, however, they roll around the grass next to their mom, caking dirt and grass onto their pants.
“Look at me!” Finn cheers. “I can roll uphill!”
The Looneys are a sport family. Seamus participates in football, soccer and basketball. He plays football with RARO, soccer with the local travel team and basketball with the school team. These different teams help him meet a variety of kids in the area. Patrick and Finn also compete by playing with RARO’s basketball, T-ball and flag football teams.
Pat played football in college, as did Mary’s father. However, Mary maintains the family rule: “He needs to play because he wants to play,” not because their relatives have played.
They watch a lot of professional sports as home as well. It’s Pat’s rule: the TV can be on as long as it’s turned to a sports game.
Although this is a recreational league, you could not tell from the atmosphere. Parents cheer loudly for their kids to score and coaches holler at their team from the sideline.
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s
There are approximately 800 athletes who practice on Brewbaker Field or Jordan’s Point Field that would benefit from the addition of the new practice fields.
RARO hopes to build a little league baseball field, as well as a multipurpose field that can be used for outdoor sports such as soccer and football. With football season ending this week, the organization hopes to begin taking bids on the work and start the grading this winter.
Although there is no set end date for the project, John “Rocky” Trudgeon, RARO executive director, said RARO is about ready to file the final paperwork for groundbreaking. “This will happen in the not too distant future,” he said.
“This will happen in the not too distant future.”- John “Rocky” Trudgeon
Meanwhile, Seamus Looney, seventh grade football quarterback, is excited to be getting this extra practice space. “I like playing with RARO,” he said. “They keep everyone involved so everyone gets a chance to play.”