(Posted Feb. 20, 2023)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Spring can be a soggy season. School softball and baseball teams know this all too well as rain often wreaks havoc on their fields, leading to cancellation of practices and games. Because the season is short, rescheduling can be tough if not impossible.
Last year, bad weather forced the London High School athletics program to cancel a total of 22 games across the boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity schedules.
The school district is taking a major step to alleviate these woes for future ball teams. On Feb. 14, the school board approved a contract with Maumee Bay Turf Center to install synthetic field turf at the Ralph Cromwell softball field and the Sonny Wheeler baseball field at the high school.
“The turf is expected to significantly decrease weather-related cancellations,” said Dr. Lou Kramer, district superintendent.
Construction is slated to start late this summer. The new turf will cover the entire softball field. The baseball field is much larger, covering more space than the football field. To save money, the district has chosen to install field turf on the infield only at the baseball field, along with a five-foot strip around the backside of the infield so infielders won’t have to transition too often between turf and grass.
The first pitch at both fields is expected in the spring of 2024. Maumee Bay Turf Center is the company that installed field turf at the high school’s Bowlus Field seven years ago.
“Our No. 1 thing is looking at ways to benefit our programs and our students. This is another step,” said Jim Wolverton, athletic director. “When we did the turf project at Bowlus Field, we got a suitable space to play football and soccer. We think we will see the same return on investment for the softball and baseball fields.”
The estimated cost of the project is $930,000. In the past, private donations have helped to cover the cost of some athletic complex improvements at London City Schools. This time, the school district is covering the entire cost.
“Due to keen fiscal stewardship over the last several years, the district plans to self-fund the project. As such, the project was included as part of the district’s recent five-year (financial) forecast,” Kramer stated.
“This demonstrates that the district wants to reinvest in its facilities,” he continued. “Because we’ve been mindful of our finances, we’re able to put that back into the facilities without going out (to the community) for an ask.”
The benefits the district hopes to see with this project include increased playing time for athletes throughout the year, but especially during the spring competition season. This is good news most notably for junior varsity ball players, as the varsity schedule typically takes priority over the junior varsity schedule when it comes to field use and rescheduling games.
Another benefit is more practice space for other sports. The ball fields will be built so that bases and pitching mounds can be removed, making for a flat surface for other sports to use.
The newly turfed fields are expected to generate revenue for the school district , as well, through tournaments and facility rentals. Those revenues will go back into supporting upgrades to the district’s athletic facilities. The football/soccer field is a good example. A travel youth soccer team from Hilliard regularly rents the field, resulting in $18,000 in revenue for London City Schools.
Besides the removable bases and pitching mounds, the fields are being built to accommodate different base and pitching mound distances. This way a wide range of ages can use the fields, opening the district to additional rental opportunities, as well as helping out local youth programs.
“We see numbers in youth sports growing in London. Those programs might run out of space if it keeps going the way it is. The school’s fields can help with that,” Kramer said. “We are very open to helping. We really feel like it can be a community asset, not just for our students but for our (local) youth programs.”
London Fast Pitch, a youth softball program, already uses the high school’s fields. The London Area Baseball Council could benefit, too, as could some of the local travel ball clubs, whether for growth reasons, tournament needs, or weather issues, Wolverton said.