McIntire Park softball benched?

As the city and county swing away at the pending construction of the $15 million Piedmont YMCA on the west side of McIntire Park, a large portion of the park's users are hearing the call, "Strike three, you're out." After decades of Park use, has Charlottesville's softball community been forgotten?

The ground lease agreement and the recently approved McIntire Park master plan includes three crucial factors: the recreation center is to be built on the area currently housing the park's shelters; the Y's design includes a pool to be used by Charlottesville High School and other competitive swim programs; the two existing softball fields are to be converted into rectangular athletic fields. It's the latter proviso that has caused an uproar among the area's softball community.

"McIntire Park is one of the best places in town for softball," softball player Richard Ward says. "Now, they're creating soccer fields for the nouveau riche, the upper middle class."

Indeed, hundreds of mostly rural, working class people like Ward use the lighted fields almost continuously in the warmer months, playing as many as 40-plus games a week, and often tailgating for hours in the adjacent parking lot. One of the fields is actually a memorial to one Dewey D.S. Shifflett (his name adorns the battered scoreboard), a local softball player who died around the time the park was being reconfigured. According to Downtown Athletic's David Deane, Shifflett was a local softball icon. "He was very instrumental in men's fast-pitch softball when it was an important sport in Charlottesville," he says.

Although the city believes that the plan has the potential to benefit a large population of Park users and increase the overall traffic McIntire Park receives, the news comes as a particular shock to a group who claim they "were not informed and had little input," according to Ward. Indeed, an extensive May 7 Daily Progress article on the YMCA project includes no comments from anyone in the local softball community.

"I think it's a crying shame that they are going to level the softball fields," says Bill Pollard, a long-time coach and manager at nearby McIntire Little League. " They are full on the weekends and look at the investment in lighting. I have no dog in the fight, but am trying to understand why they need to be replaced with a so-called universal field."

While Charlottesville's Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Svetz acknowledges the angst the imminent construction has caused for the Park's softball users, he emphasizes that a larger population will benefit from the YMCA.

"We've done our best to inform as many different people and engage them in the process," Svetz says. "While we think through this issue, we're focusing on how to continue to maintain current levels of service."

In order to maintain that service, Svetz has proposed two potential replacements for McIntire's fields: CHS and Darden Towe. While neither of these fields are lighted, a proposal to light CHS has already been approved and funded (to be completed by spring of next year). However, the future of Darden Towe's three softball fields has yet to be determined.

"With the softball community booted out of McIntire Park after thirty-five to forty years, the next best option is Darden Towe," softball player Charles Hubbard says. "The softball players need to get behind this plan, give it political push and make sure that the Darden Towe lighting takes place."

Despite any attempted outreach on the part of the city and county, the affected softball community finds fault with the plan's process. Of the few players not in the dark about the issue, the city's ongoing conversation with swim organizations and the lack of accessible information throughout the process is the salt in a much larger wound.

"There was some party who didn't want the softball players' input," Hubbard says. "They didn't want angry players not willing to rationally discuss the alternatives. It would be inconvenient to meet the protests of disgruntled citizens. It was subconsciously intentional that softball people were not sought out for our opinions while other groups were actively enlisted for feedback on the plans."

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25 comments

It looks like the Little League fields are being eliminated as well - can The Hook confirm that? None of this seems like a very good idea, but few people accuse the City of overwhelming intelligence in such matters.

This also probably means that water rates will increase, of course.

Dear Music Lover,
This drawing does not clearly show the two McIntire Little League fields, but I was at the City Council meeting on the evening of May 19 when City Council approved the siting of the YMCA, and Svetz told Council that the Little League fields would remain. (Incidentally, I recall that one of those two Little League fields was lighted and otherwise improved about a decade ago by a well-known fella named Howie Long and then named for a relative of his, Elizabeth Mullen.)--Hawes Spencer, Hook Editor

It's funny how residents ignore how the local government functions until it directly affects their fun. The process that was carried out in order to arrive at these plans is the same process local government has for any action. The same process was taken with the 50-year water supply proposal: select the people whose input you will encourage. Let the others come in on the tail end after the plans are made, then make the point that a lot of citizens put in a lot time coming up with the best proposal. Wake up, people!

The ignorance of Mr. Richard Ward and who plays soccer is astounding. It is the worlds most popular game played by many of the area's hispanics as well as thousand of youths. It has little to do with class or own's pocketbook

The local government functions?

I'm not up in arms about the loss of the softball fields, but it does seem undeniable to me that there is indeed an economic/social class difference in terms of who plays soccer, at least here in Charlottesville at the youth level. Yes it's played by poor people around the world and also by our area's adult Hispanics & Latinos. But at the youth level, it tends to be kids from upper-income families. By contrast, youth baseball seems to draw a higher percentage of rural kids, who may not necessarily be lower-income kids, but who definitely do differ from the suburban upper-income kids. My kid plays both, and I definitely see a difference.

Laughing hysterically, it obviously functions for some, non-city residents for starters.

Cville Eye, get some therapy or go out, enjoy nature, breath in the fresh air, refocus your life and step away from the computer....please.

TheSaneOne, what a misnomer. As a child would do, skip my posts...please. It seems to be affecting your non-mental health.

Focusing on the decision instead of the process, we can again see politicians enacting policies that lag behind current interests and participation.

Softball is amazingly popular in Charlottesville, and the McIntire plan results in a net loss of two fields. (Even if Towe & CHS are lighted, there's 2 less fields to play on. This follows the destruction of one softball field at Washington Park about 7-8 years ago.)

Anyone who drives on 250 from April to October sees that the McIntire fields are always in action. These fields are lynchpins of the local leagues, as they are central and easy to reach. Downtown employees and workers on 29N, for example, can very easily make 6pm weeknight games afterwork. In contrast, other softball options like PVCC are more difficult to reach, and end up jamming secondary roads.

In addition, the McIntire complex is integral to weekend softball tournaments. These tournaments bring teams to town which results in a positive economic impact. (I played in the Darden-run MBA softball tournament which brings ~30 schools to town one spring weekend. The UVA lawn school does the same, and weekend tournaments throughout the summer draw players from throughout the state.)

In short, I'd be very surprised if there is a higher, better use for the space at McIntire.

In contrast, there is already an abundance of softball/lacrosse/field hockey fields available, and they're generally underutilized. In my neighborhood alone (Rose Hill, very near McIntire) multi-purpose fields at the Burley and Walker schools are sporadically used for pick-up soccer and little else. It is also apparent to anyone visiting Darden Towe that the multi-purpose fields are not used as intensely as the softball fields. (But if the need is for an all-season (artificial turf) field, why not convert a field at Towe instead of plowing under the McIntire fields?)

But what really burns me is that there already is an effort underway by SOCA to build and provide more soccer/multipurpose fields. I really see the conversion of McIntire to be an example of city planners lagging behind local trends.

I would feel slightly better if there was some intensive use-analysis provided an argument that McIntire would be better used as a multi=purpose field, but I haven't seen it, or heard it. Without this analysis, the decision to convert the softball fields to an astroturf field rings of the political leadership wanting to provide a shiny new expensive toy, when in this case, the best thing that can be done is keep things as-is.

Finally, while I don't see it as essential to the arguments above, as someone in both softball leagues and the so-called "nouveau riche, the upper middle class," I can confirm this is definitely a dynamic at play, and I side strongly with those who see demographic forces at work here, and this is a real shame. McIntire softball provides a rare opportunity for all types to meet, play, and connect for an hour a week. I've made friendships outside my "class" playing softball at McIntire, and relish the opportunity to play with and against guys that I wouldn't see on a soccer field. I really appreciate it, and can't imagine how a fancy turf field could provide this or improve upon it.

Cville eye: Oh thank you... thank you SO much. I feel SO much better now. How could I ever doubt such a scintillating and compelling rebuttal. LOL!

TimmyG, one typo "softball/lacrosse/field hockey" should be "soccer/lacrosse/field hockey". You are completely right, softball diamonds are always full, and more are needed. SOCA can easily fund its own fields. If we cut places for softball, we will no longer have people to do the real work around here: ambulance crews, mechanics, etc.

:(

Field space is already a huge issue .. this is unfortunate.

Theory of the day¢Ã¢â??¬Š. The City wants to get rid of softball in McIntire because of the huge amount of alcohol consumed openly before and after games. (Disclosure time, I have had a few after games). Team members actually take turns bringing coolers full of beer and one team has a white panel truck that is essentially a bar on wheels. Team members make NO effort to hide this illegal activity. Again, I am no virgin here and I know that the City Parks and Rec department has had complaints which may or may not have been forwarded to the City Police.

Don't believe me; drive on down there most any night at 830 or so. In my opinion this must have been a consideration by the powers that be to remove the fields.

Alcohol or not they should not do away with the softball fields at McIntire. I have been going to games at McIntire since I was a little girl when people like DS Shiflett and Wayne Ramsey coached mens fastpitch. Not much has changed except the speed of the softball. They were tailgaiting and bringing coolers of beer 30 years ago and it wasn't legal then either. When you think of Softball in Charlottesville you think of one place and that is McIntire.

This has been a public process for the past year. This is not a new story or a new issue.

The people using those McIntire Fields are predominantly County residents- and thank you for using them, but the City has some interest in serving its own residents. My question is why so much malcontent over this, when the County's services and commitment lag so far behind?

Moreover, the city still supports multiple softball fields and the need for a multi-use rectangular field not just for SOCA (and maybe not for them at all) is dramatic.

I love how this discussion so quickly fell to class- as though adult softball players and soccer players have such different values. And there will still be diamonds at McIntire- the park will continue to be a hub of athletic events in Cville, but Darden or another park now may be too which will better serve the whole community.

Jennifer-

Please give some support for the statement that there is a "dramatic" need for a multi-purpose rectangular field. As I mentioned, such fields at Burley, Walker, Washington Park, and Towe are all underutilized, and even when used, I suspect that the players may not be the city residents that you seek to serve, (Washington Park is more or less a UVA park, and I suspect that Towe is mostly used for county lacrosse leagues). While you're at it, please explain why it needs to be an expensive turf field rather than plain old grass.

I'd also like to hear what plans might be in place to replace the #2 field at McIntire, which is a special park intentionally smaller to host certain leagues and levels of play.

As for your other points, I don't agree with the notion that we should have been aware of this a year ago. I followed the YMCA story intently because of the impact plans had on Crow Pool, and would certainly have noticed the impact on the McIntire softball fields if this had been mentioned.

As for City/County, yes, there are participants from beyond the City, but give it some thought, and you'll realize this is a very good thing. The only other activity that I think draws such a wide swath of residents might be Fridays After Five. It's nice to see people in from Greene, Fluvanna, etc., but what these events also have in common are economic impact for the City. Don't believe me, drive by Wild Wing, BW-3, or McGrady's any weeknight, and take a look at the groups of people in uniform enjoying food & drinks after the game. Getting rid of the McIntire fields will reduce softball capacity and indirectly affect business in the city.

Oh, and I very much doubt that the City subsidizes non-City softball players. More likely it's the reverse. As a City resident, I'm used to paying less for Parks & Rec facilities. (btw: Parks and Rec: you guys do a fantastic job).

Finally, consider what use of the McIntire space will make the YMCA most successful. With 8 games per night, each with 2 teams of 20 (including spectators), you're talking about more than 300 people per night using the fields, and possibly using the YMCA for a pre-game or postgame work-out. This will definitely raise awareness of the YMCA and mostly like traffic to the facility. I can't see a multi-use field generating even half of that traffic.

A couple of questions: how long does softball season run? is it only three or five months out of the year? are those fields sitting unused the rest of the year? Soccer begins in March and runs into May; there is fall soccer too that begins in Sept, I think, and runs into Oct/Nov. Is it arguable that turning the fields into soccer/lacrosse/rectangular fields opens them up to closer to year-round use? And if you're talking about side-benefits to the YMCA, isn't it equally likely that people attending/spectating at soccer games at the new facility would be just as likely to pop into the Y for pre-game/post-game workouts as would softball players and spectators?

TimmyG, you talk about the fields at Burley & Walker being underutilized for soccer--can we also point out that they are in terrible condition? My kid has had games there. Maybe it's not lack of demand at all; maybe SOCA does its best to avoid scheduling games there.

And I'm puzzled by your comment that "it's apparent to anyone" that the multipurpose fields at D-T are underutilized--I drive past D-T daily and to my eye they are PACKED. It's a swarm of spectators and games when soccer and lacrosse season are upon us.

In truth, you don't seem to have any more evidence for your claims about the underutilization of local multipurpose fields than you claim the city lacks in deciding to convert softball to multipurpose fields.

this plan makes it even more of a shame that the meadow creek parkway is not crossing the tracks, running parallel to the tracks on the west side (between the existing softball fields and the tracks) and terminating at/into the Rugby/250 clover leaf instead of McIntire Rd. then the city could actually REALLY plan for the future and imagine an expanded downtown that encompasses rose hill dr. and the wasteland that is now preston ave. If you really imagine charlottesville as a little world-class CITY, imagine an urban zone downtown that is more than 10 blocks. Then maybe we won't have to have every building on the mall be 9 stories. it actually hurts to watch.

I often try to reserve fields through the city, be it softball fields, rectangular fields, or even open grass areas in parks -- and on the weekends, very very little is available. We've played at some downright crummy 'fields' because that's all there is left.

During the week, softball dominates those fields and they are basically always reserved. If it isn't a city league, it's a church league softball group, etc etc.

So, what I'm trying to say is for both diamonds and rectangular fields, there's much more demand than supply.

Cecil-

Softball runs from the beginning of daylight savings time (March) to very early November.

As for the YMCA impact, here's my crude take on traffic:
Softball: 2 fields, 4 teams at a time, 20 people each (14-15 players +5-6 spectators) each hour from 6-10pm = 320 people.

Soccer (or lax): 15 players +10 fans x 2 teams. 1 game/night = 50 people. 2 games/night = 100 people.

You can argue with the assumptions, (maybe it's 15 fans/team), but softball traffic is still far more substantial than soccer/lax/field hockey/etc. If usage is the measure used to determine the highest, best use, softball beats anything else I can think about.

(Which reminds me: what happens to the Dogwood Festival and the 4th of July celebration with the shiny new turf field?)

As to the condition of the other fields leading toward underutilization: if the need for quality fields is so high, why aren't the fields better maintained? What you're saying is that there's a huge need for field capacity, but not enough demand to justify better care of existing fields. Something doesn't make sense there, but if you're asking for my support in getting better maintenance of Burley, Walker, etc, you've got it. (btw: I live near Walker and frequently jog on it/by it. The field seems OK to me, but I've never tried to play lacrosse or field hockey.)

My observation about Darden Towe underutilization is driven by the number of times that I've finished a softball game and noticed quiet multi-purpose fields from my car. I don't have anything scientific to back this up, but it's an observation that I stand by.

I'm still waiting for an argument to convert McIntire into a multi-purpose field, justifying both the conversion and the need for artificial turf. If you think there's need for artificial turf, wouldn't doubling up with CHS make sense? (i.e. build the turf field @ CHS for joint use by the school's FB, soccer, Lax, hockey, and other teams.)

If you're looking for hard numbers on softball, though, I can try to dig them up. My recollection, though, is that the spring softball league has something like 200 different teams, and the fall league more than 100. There's a lot of interest in softball here in Cville, and no spare field capacity to make up for the loss of two fields.

Finally, to throw out one more item for consideration: softball usage is almost wholly adults at play (weekdays 100%) with weekends mostly adult as well. Who would be the primary users of the multi-purpose field? My naive impression is that the majority of users of the multi-purpose field would be youth teams (please correct me if my impression is wrong - I do know about the adult soccer leagues). If this is the case, don't we already have enough youth-oriented athletic infrastructure in the area?

As a County resident from a County that contributes over $10 million annually to the Charlottesville city coffers, I'm happy to use McIntyie park for softball and harbor no guilt in doing so, though our leagues also play at Darden Towe and PVCC. Without the McIntire fields, however, it's worth noting that the City will lack any adult softball fields. PVCC and Darden Towe Park are both in the county, not the city.

That's a great question about the Dogwood Festival and the 4th of July Celebration.

the festival will remain at the park- and at least the conceptual plan has it on asphalt or something like that.
I have no problems with County residents using our facilities (I use theirs) but the demand for field space will continue to grow- rectangular or diamonds- the County and the City should work together to either make more or better distribute the resources we already have. This master plan for the park has been going on in public for months- the softball fields were the suggested location coming out of the approval last year- the conceptual plan has a much better location and we get to keep an outdoor active multi-use field where the diamonds are.
I am not sure who the users of a multi-use rectangular field or what the scheduling would be, but I do encourage you to contact Svetz at Parks&Rec he will certainly answer your questions directly, instead of me guessing.
I have no idea about the grass/turf thing- I prefer grass myself.
The alteration of the Park will be an adjustment, I love the adult softball games- there is so much life in the park until well into the summer evenings, but I have to believe the vision for this park is a positive one that will benefit our city long-term.

I am sad to see these fields being converted because I believe softball provides a unique opportunity for adults to socialize in a competitive team sport that also happens to be fun to play. Most other team sports around here require a certain degree of physical fitness and skill that not every adult has the time to maintain. Certainly the softball players are as often as not very fit and athletic, but this sport also allows weekend warriors and the occasional adventuresome adult to give it a shot. Softball allows women to compete side by side with men, and the college students to compete side-by-side with the over-the-hill crowd. Most other team sports not only require conditioning, but also result in many more injuries, such as in soccer.

Furthermore softball is the king of adult social sports around here. True, there is the beer, but there is also the friendships.

That's why softball seems to be the sport of choice for all manner of adults and organizations, from graduate schools students like those at Darden Business and the Law School, to church groups, to businesses, and for those of all economic backgrounds.

It is especially sad because it seems it would be much harder to replace a softball field than a soccer, lacrosse, or similar field. All you need for soccer or lacrosse is a flat piece of land with two goals. For softball, you need the infield, outfield, backstop, bases, benches or dugouts, and a fence, with a much larger playing surface. I could find many places to play pickup games of soccer, but very few for softball.

I have nothing against SOCA or soccer players. I have two kids who play soccer competitively, and I can see why they love it. But they have so so many fields to choose from already. We really don't need them as much as we do the softball fields in my opinion.

By the way, I thought we were going to get land to replace the land we are losing to the Parkway. Can that land be used for softball fields? Does anybody know?

I don't think there is an option to light any fields at Darden Towe Park. Clara Belle Wheeeler's Family (of Buena Vista Farm-next to Darden Twe Park) had granted the land to the city and county with the agreement that the land would never be lighted.