Although their team finished atop District 6-AA baseball standings, East Hamilton's Hurricanes have never known home-field advantage.
There is no home field, not even for practice. Coach Steve Garland's team has had to use the East Brainerd and Ooltewah youth complexes for practice and games for a team that once again is approaching a 30-win season and a second straight postseason showing.
East Hamilton is the only school in Hamilton County without at least a practice facility for baseball.
"We're grateful to the East Brainerd and Ooltewah youth associations. We have used both for practice, and we have played some at Chattanooga State," Garland said. "Everybody has been good to us from the standpoint of borrowing space, but ultimately it doesn't compare to having your own place."
It has been a recurring theme for outdoor athletics teams at the school, which opened in 2009. The football team didn't play an on-campus home game until this past fall, depending on Tyner and Finley Stadium in 2009 and 2010, and the softball team didn't play its first home game until this spring.
Hurricanes and their parents cast an envious eye at Heritage High across the state line in Georgia, where athletics facilities were included in construction.
"We're really frustrated. Our belief as taxpayers is that they should build a full facility. Heritage was a turn-key operation," said Wayne Jackson, president of East Hamilton's baseball booster club.
"There are a lot of schools that don't have everything. Soddy-Daisy just got a softball field, and look how long they've been around," East Hamilton athletic director Brad Jackson said. "It makes you feel a little better, but you'd think [athletic facilities] should be a part of the school like Heritage, which is a beautiful school with great facilities. Here it can be very frustrating to parents, faculty, coaching staff, everybody, when it is not budgeted in."
Hamilton County officials used some proceeds from the sale of the former Signal Mountain Middle School and discretionary-fund money from County Commissioners Chester Bankston and Larry Henry to get the softball field built for right at $199,000, school board records show.
"Volleyball and basketball were covered when the school was built," Jackson said. "We got the football field and now the softball field. Now we need to start the baseball field for the boys."
A baseball booster club member said members are set to meet Tuesday with Hamilton County's engineers to discuss what may be a three-phase plan to get a field built. The playing/practice area will come first, with lighting and amenities such as a concession stand, seating and bathrooms to follow. Cost estimates for the baseball field are $280,000 to $320,000.
When asked what he would advise the school's baseball boosters to do, Jackson said he wants them to be patient.
"They need to get organized in a way to raise money that is needed to get [construction] off the ground," he said. "Once that happens they'll need to raise another $40,000 to $50,000.
"Baseball parents need to show the county that they're willing to do what it takes to get this field going. When government and the private sector work together and trust each other, good things can happen."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...