Lit diamonds: Softball moms join fight for McIntire fields
Anyone who thinks that the city's plan to kill softball fields at McIntire Park has angered only aging, beer-drinking softball enthusiasts has been proven wrong this week as a new and vocal constituency has emerged to defend McIntire's fields: softball moms.
"The girls are slowly making inroads to the nice fields that the city has," says Anne Powell, a mother of a softball player and a girls softball tournament coordinator. "Parents would be upset," adds Powell, "knowing that these fields would be taken out."
So Powell and other girls softball volunteers are beginning to make their voices heard– just as Albemarle County's board chair has planned a highly anticipated public meeting to be held on Thursday.
"McIntire Park gives the town a chance to grow softball," Powell says. "Our parents have not been involved in this discussion because we haven't felt it's been our park– that it's the adult softballers' fight to fight, even though it should be our fight to fight as well."
Powell has been involved in the girls softball movement since 2000, when her daughter, Danielle–- then a fourth grader–- joined the city's recreational program. However, after wanting more than the local league could offer, the girl enrolled in a travel league that utilized various softball complexes scattered across Virginia.
"I do believe that girls in this town have been under-served for decades and, in general, girls are not given the same access to the City's really nice parks and fields," Powell says. "We've never really had a facility; the boys and the adults have all the facilities. Girls have been short-changed for a long time."
In recent years, Powell has tried bringing more travel tournaments to Charlottesville, but in attempting to get field space, her requests were often denied due to adult tournaments utilizing the same limited space.
"I had to storm City Hall with letters from parents and coaches demanding more tournament space in town for our girls," Powell says. "Eventually, the City has given us the same access as the adults, however, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't without a fight."
It was City Council's May 19 decision to revamp McIntire Park without softball that touched off this controversy. Albemarle Board of Supervisors chair Ken Boyd blasted what he sees as unilateral decision that "bothers" him, and he put together a Community Conversation on the related issue of lights for the jointly-owned softball fields at Darden Towe Park this Thursday, September 11, a 7pm at the Elks Lodge by Towe.
Bob Fenwick, a local softball player, shares Powell's worry that diminishing softball fields could diminish softball.
"If the city is going to demolish these fields and not light Darden Towe, softball will die here in Charlottesville," Fenwick says. "Not only for us, but for the little girls and the businesses who sponsor softball."
Warming up for a recent night game at McIntire, Fenwick is approached by fellow players and families offering encouragement for his campaign, which includes a Save McIntire website. Fenwick accuses Charlottesville's City Council of not being in touch with the true needs of the softball community.
"I don't think they have any idea how popular McIntire is," Fenwick says. "I've never seen a city councilor out here– they're just not out here."
According to Powell, the destruction of McIntire's fields could go beyond harming the cause of softball in Charlottesville.
"There's a reason why it's a dying sport in town for girls– we've never had a home base," says Powell. "Losing more fields right now is probably the last thing the girls of this town need, even if they never actually got to use them much in the first place."
–-story corrected at 10:32am, September 10 to give correct name of daughter who began playing in year 2000