The question for Augusta County’s Board of Supervisors and school board is not “how can we?” when considering whether or not to put lights on softball fields, but “how can we not?”
Before focusing on the girls, we need to note that of the county’s five high schools, only Riverheads’ baseball team lacks a lighted diamond. For context realize that Churchville and Craigsville high schools, which ceased to be 58 years ago, had lighted baseball fields. (If Riverheads is to be denied lights for any sport, as a Gap graduate; I would prefer their football field be unlit and unused.)
Baseball and softball are meant to be untimed sports. Football, basketball, soccer and other sporting events are controlled by the clock. There is a defined time which determines the pace and strategy for play. But baseball and softball are not so enslaved.
Instead of a game of minutes it is a game of outs and innings. This is probably the most compelling part of these sports. You always have a chance to yet win. The opponent can never stop competing. No running out the clock. As long as you have one inning, one out, one strike left, you can still win.
When that is adulterated, by the looming of a sinking sun, it is not the same game. The integrity of the sport is lessened. The fairness and safety for the players is diminished by rushed pre-game warm-ups and deteriorating game conditions as dusk moves in.
The opportunity for families to watch their favorite batter is less convenient because of early starts. The schools are denied the opportunities to host regional games and initiate fund raising tournaments. Championships and “pay to play” games will not be scheduled where the number of innings is determined by the ump and the sun.
But of course, the elephant in the room is what this says to the young women of this particular sport. They come to realize their game is considered less worthy than the boys’. And by extension their personal efforts less worthy of appreciation.
It needs to end.
In preparation our decision makers need a tour of ballparks. The two boards need to step into a yellow school bus at a 5 o’clock game time. Then travel from school to school to view and compare the boys’ versus the girls’ playing fields as the sun goes down.
It needs to be publicly announced so as to allow the teams and families to greet their soon to be conquering heroes.
I am convinced such a visit would recast the conversation from “all in good time” to let’s “git ‘er done.” The proposed one-a-year constructions, would lose attractiveness when observing the present inequities and realizing the staggered builds are themselves unfair.
So what to do? I suggest there is an open path.
Some years ago in response to falling enrollments and diminishing state funding, the school board chose to consolidate a few elementary schools. There were operational cost savings and the added benefit of surplus schools available for sale.
There are two schools now actively marketed. The former Ladd Elementary is located in the most vibrant retail marketplace in our midst: Waynesboro by the interstate. The price tag of $4,000,000 will be paid. The once Verona Elementary School is for sale and valued at $1,500,000.
Why can’t the supervisors designate $1,000,000 of these surplus assets for use today? It is not just appropriate, but smart.
Having the funds for one bid package for lighting six fields this summer, will save many construction dollars when compared to the aggregated costs in doing year to year six times. It also means not disappointing deserving athletes, and impatient parents, as some fields are lighted while others are left in the dark.
If neither board wishes to tap existing reserves; the funds could be commercially borrowed. Using say Ladd school as collateral, and eventual source of loan repayment, neither operational nor capital budgets are significantly impacted. Making a $60,000 annual mortgage payment is still less than a recent suggestion of $200,000 annually for the piecemeal plan.
Your dads, as mine, likely told you: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” We are not doing right by these girls and guys. It is time our leaders went to bat for these scholar-athletes.
Finally, if we want to help make this happen, we need to use our outside voices to let our political teammates know we hoping for wins, not wind.