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East Hamilton Middle-High School boosters hope community members will step up to the plate financially to help get a new baseball field built.
The school has gone four years without a field to practice or play on, which has players traveling across the county to practice at various places. So far, parents have amassed about $150,000. But another $80,000 is needed to get the project under way. Supporters are hoping to get the funds together and the project started by September so the field could be completed in time for 2014's baseball season.
The current setup isn't sustainable, as players don't know which field they're practicing on day to day, said parent Ashlie Henderson. When they find an empty field, they pile into cars and drive themselves to practice.
"There are close to 70 kids involved in baseball programs that are traveling every day in cars to practices all over the city -- all the way to Lookout Valley and Chattanooga State [Community College]," Henderson said. "It's a significant safety risk."
Aside from safety concerns, Henderson said the continual fundraising for the field may cause other needs to go unaddressed. Parents who ordinarily would donate money for books, computers or band equipment are putting much of their support behind the baseball project. Plus, without a home field of their own, they're unable to make money off ticket sales, concessions or sign advertising.
It's taken them years to come up with the initial $150,000.
"That money's sitting there doing nothing for the school," Henderson said.
Henderson petitioned the Hamilton County school board for financial help in May, though board members said athletic facilities often are funded through private support or from donations from county commissioners' discretionary funds.
Board Chairman Mike Evatt said East Hamilton's athletic facilities were cut out of plans to meet the construction budget. But that should change with future middle and high school projects, he said.
"It needs to happen," Evatt said. "You don't need to put people in brand-new schools without adequate facilities."
But when the school system struggles to build and maintain the academic facilities it has, athletic needs can seem a low priority. School officials have a list of about $200 million in future school building needs, as well as an estimated $200 million backlog on deferred maintenance for current buildings.
"It [funding for athletics facilities] should be included for new schools," said board member Donna Horn, who represents East Hamilton. "But, gosh, we can hardly get the funding for the schools themselves."
Head baseball coach Steve Garland said his players have adjusted well to the uncertainty of not having their own field. The team won this year's 6-AA District championship.
Even when the group has raised enough for a field, it won't compare with the facilities of other area high schools. The projected $230,000 cost is just a bare field and won't include extras like lights, bleachers, concession stands or a press box.
But that's just fine with the team.
"We will have no complaints if we can get to the point where we can practice on campus and we can host some games," Garland said.
Even if that means games are played only in daylight, parents bring their own lawn chairs and the team has to bring in portable toilets.
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or email@example.com.