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."