New Penns Valley Little League Softball board members hardly had time to make plans before life threw them a curve.
Last June, they discovered their players didn’t have a field.
The Miles Township Fire Company had decided to switch its Rebersburg field, the league’s only diamond, from softball back to exclusively Little League baseball.
“We were left high and dry,” said Terry Bumgardner, the softball league president.
Today, though, they’re floating on a cloud.
Their new field sits behind the Centre Hall Elementary School, testament to teamwork that would please any coach.
In just nine months, parents and players banded together to raise about $13,000 and build a softball diamond on a former baseball field donated by the Penns Valley Area School District.
“We were going to do whatever it took,” said Kristine Royer, league secretary.
This weekend, the league’s two senior teams held their first practices. Monday, they’ll play their first scrimmage, christening the field for the upcoming season.
But the success story involves an entire community of heroes.
Individuals donated raffle items. The local high school coach lent a helping hand. Businesses gave the players a lesson in stepping up to the plate.
Even the Pittsburgh Pirates got into the act.
“There were so many good people who knew what they were doing,” Bumgardner said. “This is what it leads to.”
The future didn’t look so rosy to league parents last summer.
Their daughters had nowhere to play. And a replacement field was nowhere in sight.
“We were optimistic but it was a very tall order,” Royer said.
Cue Don Lucas, varsity softball coach at Penns Valley Area High School.
Lucas, Bumgardner’s childhood friend, offered the school fields to the league for the fall season, solving an immediate problem. He also established weekly Saturday clinics to sharpen both players and coaches, and ran fall practices.
But while Lucas freely donated his time and expertise, the league also needed financial generosity.
Royer and a fellow parent, Kathy Coursen, led the fundraising committee, organizing a fall raffle that netted about $4,000. League girls tallied more assists than a slick infield by working hard to sell chances.
Next up was a winter benefit comedy night at the Wisecrackers Comedy Club near State College. That included a silent auction with such choice items as Penn State football tickets and a signed football helmet from NFL linebacker Josh Hull, a local product.
The night yielded another $3,000 for the league’s coffers, to add to a $1,000 contribution from Restek Corp. But neither produced a field.
Enter local school board members.
Approached by Bumgardner and Lucas, they agreed to allow the league to revitalize the disused school field, provided the school district didn’t have to spend a dime.
League officials couldn’t nod their heads any faster.
They had a major piece of the dream in place — but a lot more work left.
Their field lacked a backstop, pitcher’s mound and benches. So Bumgardner and the rest of the field committee members rolled up their sleeves.
Bumgardner, Chad Stover, Alan Stover, Brady Royer and TJ Coursen compiled a master list of everything needed for a backstop. Their estimate came in at about $5,000.
But they hadn’t figured in the value of friendship. Bumgardner went to his pal, Josh Nastase, of Nastase Construction in State College. Taking advantage of contractor discounts for materials, Nastase trimmed $1,300 from the cost.
Like a team on a hot streak, the league was connecting, and the generosity just kept flowing in.
Best Line Equipment provided lifts. Burd’s Landscaping in Centre Hall loaned an edger. A skid loader came from Hoober Inc. in McAlisterville. Home Depot gave 37 bags of concrete.
“I think people are good in nature and they want to help, and I think that’s showed,” Bumgardner said.
In the biggest surprise, the Pirates joined the benefactors.
Bumgardner applied to the Pirates Charities’ Fields for Kids program to improve youth baseball and softball facilities, and the franchise came through with a $2,000 grant.
In return, the team might have gained a convert.
“I’m a Mets fan, but all of a sudden the other night, I caught myself watching the Pirates game,” Bumgardner said.
Once the supplies and equipment were in place, it was time to build.
It was time to get the job done.
Field committee members spent the past four weekends erecting the backstop, grading the diamond, forming the pitcher’s mound and installing wooden benches. Ted Dutrow, a local contractor, came over regularly and pitched in — another charitable soul among many who made the dream possible.
By the end, they made close friends as well as a field, united by a mission for their daughters. Famished after one long Saturday, they gathered at Bumgardner’s house around a fire to roast hotdogs.
“We had a couple of beers as we talked about the day,” Bumgardner said. “We had a good time.”
The events of last summer are long behind them. It’s a new spring, a fresh start.
“We’re actually in a better place now,” Bumgardner said.
Because the new diamond is closer to the rest of the county, the league could schedule more games. Registration almost doubled from last year.
Leftover funds will go toward maintenance and future additions such as dugouts. But for now, thanks to a community’s determination, 83 girls can play ball on their very own field of dreams.
“People are excited,” Royer said. “People are excited about the program, about the new field. It’s a little contagious.”
Softball fever is breaking out in Centre Hall, a sign of a miracle: a home run hit before the first pitch.
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.