A frustrated parent of a Letcher County Middle School Cougars softball player told the Letcher County Board of Education at its recent meeting that the middle school softball and baseball teams don’t have a field to play ball.
“What the middle school softball and middle school baseball teams are facing is just like if you went to any school in this county and said your basketball team has got to go to the rec center and hope there is a court open to practice and play your games,” said Dr. Shane McDougal, during the board meeting on Nov. 24. “That is essentially what those two teams are doing and have done for a long time. They need a venue to play.”
Last softball season, the Letcher County Middle School Cougars softball team, which is made up of students from Arlie Boggs, Cowan and Whitesburg middle schools, used a field at Earnest Cook Memorial Park, located across from Appalachian Regional Hospital in Whitesburg.
“We have a good field in town,” said McDougal. “I feel guilty. I’m a Little League coach and I go up there to practice the middle school and this is for everybody. It becomes a problem.”
McDougal said the softball team shared the fields owned by the Letcher Fiscal Court with Whitesburg Little League, the church softball league and an adult softball league.
“The Little League has become more successful,” said McDougal. “The adult softball league has skyrocketed. I was there all spring long. We were lucky to get an hour of practice at time.”
Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. told McDougal that he has been in that situation before.
“Shane, we’ve all been there,” said Quillen. “Done that forever. Especially when we had zero fields before the community started them.”
Rather than compete for practice time on one of the fields at Earnest Cook Memorial Park, McDougal wants the softball team to have a field of its own.
After Gabo Collins talked to Letcher Schools Supt. Tony Sergent about using land in West Whitesburg for the softball team, the school board entered into a lease a few months ago to use land located near the Letcher County Conservation District. The lease is for $10 a month.
“Gabo talked like he would try to help get us a field for our middle school,” said Sergent. “At the time he thought that the adults could probably try to use it some on Sunday and told him that would be a good deal for us if he could get the field fixed and done and get all of the things arranged and donated then we would let them use it on Sundays.”
Sergent said the field isn’t big enough for the adult softball league to use.
“(Collins) said he would continue to try to help us get that field together,” said Sergent. “Gabo was trying to do that out of the goodness of his heart just to help us try to raise some money to do those things.”
McDougal said it would cost about $15,000 to build a backstop, fence in the field and build dugouts.
Sergent said it would be “a risky situation” to put money into a field that the board doesn’t own.
McDougal suggested making the field located beside Cowan Elementary School as a field for the middle school softball team. The board owns the Cowan field.
“I can see your hesitation to spend any money on something you don’t own,” said McDougal. “ What I am getting at is this is going to go back to square one. If we’re going to start from zero and there is no financial input, there’s no money available for these kids to have a field, then we might as well go with Cowan school.”
McDougal said the owner of the VFW field in Whitesburg donated the backstop to Cowan Elementary School.
“My point is these kids don’t have anywhere to go,” said McDougal. “If there is not going to be any money donated from the board for a field down here, then at least let’s go to Cowan and use that backstop down there. We’ll do what we can.”
McDougal said a two to three foot drop is located where home plate would have to go to the outfield.
“It’s better than nothing,” said McDougal. “It would be about a 180 foot fence instead of 200. It’s big enough for our purposes. It’s better than what we have now.”
McDougal told the board that he needs a starting point to tell the softball team how much money they need to raise.
“If Cowan is big enough that might be the best thing to do because we own that,” said Board Chairman Will Smith.
McDougal told the board that with the Cowan field, the concession stand located near the gymnasium and the bathrooms could be used. Most of the field would be inside the walking track, McDougal said.
“School kids would have a baseball field to play on,” said McDougal. “I don’t care a bit to do basically all the groundwork. I don’t care a bit to donate quite a bit of money to it. I can’t do it all.”
McDougal said if the softball team ends up without a field to use, he suggested that the middle school team use the Letcher County Central High School softball field.
“If we end up with this gridlock again, I’ve asked this before and it rubs people the wrong way,” said McDougal. “Why can these kids not use that high school field — that baseball field and that softball field when it is not being used?”
Sergent said that “if you use the baseball and softball field for one middle school, you have to use it for all of them. That’s the reason from before.” Sergent said upkeep was another factor.
McDougal said he didn’t mind sharing the field.
“Why not?,” said McDougal. “We play each other. I wouldn’t mind a bit to share with Neon. I wouldn’t mind a bit to share with Letcher or any of these other kids. Taxpayer money went into it.”
Board Member Terry Cornett asked if the middle school team could use the old Whitesburg High School football field and Sergent said that a concession stand, poles, fencing and a blacktopped parking lot have been added since it was last used as a baseball field years ago.
Even if the Cowan field was renovated for the softball team to use, the outfield wouldn’t be long enough. The outfield of a baseball field requires 300 feet and 200 feet is required for the outfield of a softball field.
“So no matter what baseball is going to be left out,” said Board Member Mendy Boggs.
McDougal said both teams need a field.
“That’s got to be fixed as well or something else has got to be done,” said Mc- Dougal. “Something’s got to be found or that high school field has got to be renegotiated or the priorities of that high school field has got to change.”
Cornett said the board needs to do something for the middle school programs. “That is our feeder program for high schools,” said Cornett. “They have nowhere to play or practice.”