Lady Rams open with new facility thanks to LSU, volunteers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; If you get on all fours and listen closely at Wilkinson County Christian Academy’s softball field you can almost hear the whistles, barking of orders and marching of feet of former LSU football players.

Through some fortuitous connections and some prudent timing, sod that use to cushion bone-crushing tackles at the Charles McClendon LSU Football Practice Facility now rests inside the fences of WCCA’s softball park.

&uot;For a while you could still see the lines of the field and the numbers &045; 10, 20, 30 &045; it was pretty cool,&uot; WCCA Athletic Director Sam Byrd said. &uot;We were very fortunate to get it. It’s a unique field and the kids are lucky to have it.&uot;

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It all began to sprout wings in 2001 when WCCA head coach Buck Shipp got in good with the field maintenance manager at Tiger Park, LSU’s softball facility.

Shipp, who has had season tickets for the last four years, initiated some chatter with the groundskeeper, who oversees various LSU facilities, and discovered the football practice facility was scheduled to get new grass.

Ding &045; the light bulb went off in Shipp’s head, and he asked if he could take the sod of LSU’s hands.

After the two brokered a deal, Byrd and WCCA staff prepared the field by smoothing out the soil and installing an irrigation system in order for the new sod to grow into.

&uot;It was a kind of spur of the moment type of deal,&uot; Byrd said. &uot;One of those things where we needed some and they had some at that point in time. It worked out perfect for us.&uot;

The town then took the initiative to support the field through fund raising and scrupulous guidance.

Now mesh banners with company names and phone numbers adorn nearly every spec of the chain-link fence that lines the outfield.

&uot;Many parents helped us out, and they’ve put a lot of work into it,&uot; Byrd said. &uot;We were able to go out and get some sponsors. The set up is real nice. We couldn’t ask for anything better.&uot;

And it is light years from the makeshift softball field the Rams used to play on.

Through the power of illusion, and unrolling one of those loud, neon orange fences, the WCCA baseball field would be converted into a softball field for practice and home games.

Now that’s not a problem.

&uot;I always catch myself thinking, whenever we go and play on another field, about ours and how we have one of the best around,&uot; second baseman Amanda McCarty said.

&uot;We’ve never had anything this nice to play on. It made our team much better to have our own place to play.&uot;

Catcher Elizabeth Whetstone, who has been playing softball since the first grade, always heard rumblings of building a field.

Whetstone, who said it is her job to hit the first home run in the park, understands what dedication and involvement the project took.

&uot;It’s been awesome,&uot; she said. &uot;We don’t have a lot of money, so we did a lot of fund-raising. It’s amazing how people in the community came out to help us with this.&uot;

Shipp, whose wife Renee pitched for LSU’s team in the 1970s, said every visiting team’s collective jaws hit the infield dirt when they see how plush and manicured the field is.

&uot;Somebody from LSU’s softball program came up here and said this field would rate third in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) behind only Florida and Tennessee,&uot; he said. &uot;I think that’s pretty good for a town like Woodville.&uot;

It’s a welcome addition for the Lady Ram players, 13-16 a season ago including a trip to the MPSA semifinals before losing 7-6 to Huntington.

Gone are six players to either graduation or ambivalence. Shipp has many questions surrounding his team without starter Meredith Fletcher, who will miss most of the season due to off-season surgery, on the mound.

&uot;As far as Class A goes, last year I think (Fletcher) was the best in the league,&uot; said Shipp, whose Rams open at Brookhaven at 5 p.m. today. &uot;We’ve got to score some runs to beat folks, though.&uot;

Fletcher suffered a torn ligament and nerve damage in both her throwing shoulder and arm. Today she has screws as her battle scars from the surgery that took place in Baton Rouge recently.

Despite serving as a cheerleader for the time being Fletcher, who pitched on the varsity team as a 12-year-old in the seventh grade, has expectations and goals to reach.

&uot;I plan for us to do pretty good this year. I hope I can come back once the playoffs get here,&uot; she said. &uot;I love this field. I couldn’t ask for anything else. It really is a privilege to play here.&uot;