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Originally published: 2014-04-28 08:41:01
Last modified: 2014-04-28 08:41:46

Your View: Field of broken dreams

In the movie "Field of Dreams," Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice whisper, "If you build it, he will come." He imagines a baseball field in his cornfield. His wife, Annie, is skeptical, but she tells him to follow his vision. He works on the field for the next couple of days, hoping to find out what will happen. What happens is the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players appear and begin practicing and playing on the field. 

For years, countless young men and women from Watauga County have followed their vision and looked to the Watauga High School baseball and softball fields as their "Field of Dreams." Many of them have realized their dreams and much more on that field. Some went on the journey and landed in the major leagues, and many more found WHS baseball and softball as a means of obtaining a college education. They escaped poverty and a future tied to service industry by obtaining a college scholarship to play ball. Many of these young men and women had never envisioned receiving an advanced degree until this "dream" occurred and granted them this gift. The vast majority of the Watauga County youths who strode onto these fields as kids only wanting to "play ball" left as young men and women with discipline, self-confidence, outstanding work ethic and a respect for the American way of life.

Sadly, since moving to the new high school, this dream is slowly turning into a nightmare due to the "field of broken dreams" they are forced to practice on and play on. The dedicated efforts of coaches, athletic directors, administrators and private donors can only take our future leaders so far. The best teachers and coaches, deprived of the resources needed to teach, mentor and turn our youth into strong citizens, are fighting an uphill battle they ultimately cannot win. The big losers in all of this are our children, but perhaps in the end, Watauga County, North Carolina and even the United States lose as we are deprived of the contributions children could provide if allowed the opportunity.

The new fields are unusable much of the time due to drainage issues, not being level and with poor construction in general. When the first home games were played, the bathrooms located at the baseball and softball fields were not working. WHS fans and players, along with guests, had to walk to the football restrooms if they needed to use the facilities. The outdoor batting and pitching cages look like they were rescued from the county landfill. Since the move to the new high school, the inability to have consistent practices has started taking a toll on the once proud baseball and softball programs. Practices are cancelled or forced to take place in the auxiliary gym at 7:30 p.m. This places an unusual hardship on the student-athletes and their families. 

Our student-athletes face opponents who have been on the field or in an indoor hitting and pitching complex practicing for months. 

In some years, the first time Watauga players are on an actual field is the first game of the season. Needless to say, the results are not what they are capable of producing, and, without any sight of having adequate facilities, the future looks dismal for the baseball and softball program at Watauga High School.   

It is interesting that Avery County High School's softball and baseball programs have new artificial turf fields, and we cannot even maintain a usable facility for our teams. We, the taxpayers of Watauga County, paid for usable ball fields. Why did we not get what we paid for?

Several "theories" about why these problems exist, ranging from the drainage system being installed upside down to unstable earth removed from installing the geothermal heating field being used for backfill.  It has been said that a coach didn't want turf on the fields. In actuality, the installation of a turf field during construction would have required the WHS programs share the field with the county parks and recreation program.  I have even heard, "The field was built according to plan; unfortunately it is a bad plan." I don't believe the plan called for all the water not to drain off the field and there being a six-foot difference in grading in the outfield.  

I do not expect a state-of-the-art-field rivaling Yankee Stadium to be in place at the high school. I only expect it to be equal to the facility they had at the old High School. Remember the promise of how the new facilities were going to be a great improvement over the old ones. 

Many parents, local businesses and several organizations have contributed their time, talents and monies to help bring the fields up to standards. Recently, the program obtained two new indoor batting cages, which have helped with the inadequate indoor facilities problem. Unfortunately, much of the cost of these batting cages came from private organizations and individuals who are more concerned about the program than those elected to public office. There are also private organizations raising funds to construct an all-season batting and pitching facility for both the girls' softball and boys' baseball programs.

We have a duty and an obligation to provide our children the best in education, arts and sports by producing an environment that will allow them to succeed in life. 

The students of WHS deserve to have an equal "playing field" that will allow them to compete with all of their opponents, and they do not have that. We have purchased art deco light poles to look at as you approach Boone, and have paid outlandish composition packages for individuals to "go away" -- why can't we provide decent fields for our students? 

This issue has been raised before, but it has only been passed around between various county agencies where fingers were pointed in every direction, no one displaying the conviction or courage to stand up and say ,"This is wrong."  As a citizen of Watauga County, parent of a WHS student, retired member of the US Air Force and an educator (Appalachian State University), I believe it's time to stop pointing fingers and blaming others for this problem.

It is time for someone to have the courage to stand up, take some decisive action and fix the problem. The citizens of Watauga County deserve to receive the quality product that we have already paid for. Our children deserve the best in education, arts and sports by being provided with an environment that will allow them to succeed in life.  

Rodney A. BerryBoone