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The masterplan vision for The Howard School baseball field. (Architectural drawing by Franklin Architects)

As with any major project, we should ask: How much of this new push for development on the Southside and South Broad Street is simply part of our constant craving for more?

More condos and townhomes. More places to drink craft beer. More retail. More entertainment, money and restaurants with beautiful people and beautiful meals.

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Howard High Baseball Field Masterplan

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Yes, you and I crave and desire things in personal ways, as individuals; that's part of being human.

But when desire and craving join forces with bulldozers, government authorities and bank loans, then many things often follow — sometimes, they are good and just, and other times, damaging and gentrifying.

So, how do we develop land and communities in selfless ways? Not merely for our own private gain and pleasure?

But for the betterment of all?

Once more, we find answers among the least of these: the Howard School baseball team. Their story and field represent the truest form of development — something that elevates the human spirit and condition.

That's why so many of you fell in love with them last season. Remember: When they began to transform their field — once considered the worst facility in Hamilton County — in the winter of 2017, they started with a negative bank account balance and borrowed tiller. Thanks to you, they ended the season with some $80,000 in gifts and donations, which led to a transformed field and a transformed group of young men.

Guess what?

Coach Jon Johnson and his team of Hustlin' Tigers aren't done.

This morning, the team announces its new vision: a new $1.9 million fundraising master plan.

It's part of their version of Southside development.

It's best known in ten words.

An elite baseball facility for the inner city of Chattanooga.

"Coach Johnson is a phenomenal guy," said Bryan Johnson, Hamilton County Schools superintendent. "His vision going forward is very, very impressive."

Not long ago, the two Johnsons — superintendent and coach; they are not related — met for more than an hour, discussing what's been done and could be done with this team. Coach Johnson showed the superintendent a short video that sums up this new vision.

An indoor batting cage.

New concession stands.

Towers of lights.

More bleachers.

An expanded training facility.

New irrigation and backdrop netting.

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David Cook

A sky box.

Outfield fencing.

Scoreboard and foul poles and a legitimate parking area.

The vision is stunning. See for yourself by visiting Howard High School Baseball's Facebook page or the online version of this column. (And thanks to Franklin Architects, who created drawings for this elite field, all pro bono.)

"I'm really excited about the opportunity it could provide," said Johnson, the superintendent. "[Coach Johnson] is definitely one you say, 'That guy there is pushing to make things right.' He's just a testament."

Why create such a new $1.9 million vision?

Currently, there are 20 or so students-athletes playing baseball at Howard.

With this new elite field, there could be a junior varsity team, with 20 more guys.

Then, another 20 on a middle school team.

Add in summer camps, which could impact another 200 or 300.

Add in Little League teams for another 200 or 300.

Think of all the dads and moms and cousins and grandparents who can help coach and cheer and mentor.

All the current and graduating players who can come back and bend down and help someone younger.

That's 600 people — maybe 700, maybe 1,000 — affected by one field.

Not just affected.

But changed.

Encouraged.

Loved.

The guys on the team say how the team has saved their life: less streets, more community. Grades are better. They're a part of something. They call it family.

Imagine if 1,000 more South Broad Street kids said the same thing.

"This field and vision matter so much. Kids' lives are in the balance," said Coach Johnson. "As Frederick Douglass, the 19th century author, orator and abolitionist leader stated: 'It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.'"

Just ask Terrance Beamon Sr., whose son, Terrance Jr., is a second-year starter on the team.

"I don't know baseball. I never played," he said. "But what I do know is that I used to get a call every day from this school about problems with my son. Now I don't get those calls. My son's grades and behavior have gotten better since starting baseball. He's probably going to make honor roll this semester."

That's true development.

To get involved, email Coach Johnson at johnson_jon@hcde.org.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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