Ontario Citizen Group And 8C District Join To Expand Softball

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ONTARIO – In the past few years, Adrian and Pilot Rock are among the communities turning homegrown fan support and partnerships combined with school district assistance into expanded opportunities for student athletes. Fans of Ontario baseball completed a new facility for the Tigers and Imbler is currently working towards the construction of a new track. Ontario is once again using community and district resources to add softball facilities for both high school and middle school sports.

The Tiger softball program currently uses facilities located on the campus of Treasure Valley Community College. Though workable for a number of years, problems in “borrowing” a field have arisen over the years.

“The field is TVCC’s and we respect that,” said Josh Mink, athletic director for Ontario High School. “We have rescheduled games due to TVCC’s need for their field. In addition, although TVCC has been great, the team has never been able to feel the field has been a place of their own. If we hang up signs of support for a big game, they have to immediately be removed upon the game’s completion.”

A secondary reason is the expansion of the softball program in Ontario. The middle school is set to begin playing competitive softball, providing a feeder program to the high school team with experienced players.

Luckily, the need for a home field of their own was seen by Tiger softball fans some years ago.

Starting in 2018, Ontario resident Fran Halcom and others approached the Ontario School Board with an idea for softball to have a place to call their own. Since that time, three fundraisers have been held and donations have been obtained. To date, a total of $87,180 has been raised. Holcom has also tirelessly sought out and picked up grants and the grandmother of Tiger alumni currently paying collegiate softball has paid for items personally.

“We held a dinner and dance night and auction, sold Christmas wreaths and sold concessions at games,” said Halcom. “The Friends of Ontario Softball is intent on the team having a place to call their own.”

An additional volunteer is a name familiar to Ontario softball. Michael Navarrete is a third-generation farmer agronomist and owner of The Soil Doc in Malheur County. Holding a master’s degree in Agronomy, the softball fan is adding his expertise to building a field for teams to enjoy for years.

“We have already taken out fill dirt not compatible with placing grass on the top of it,” Navarette said as he pointed out piles of rocks and clumps of dirt. “This area had been neglected for some time and sits in an old river bed.”

The multiple field complex will be located behind the Ontario Middle School.

As the communities of Pilot Rock, Adrian and numerous others have found, actual construction of a project is what the public sees. Prior to shovels hitting the ground, hours and dollars have been spent on preparation.

The cost of engineering and plans totaled over $13,000. Cleanup of old, existing backstops and metal and concrete at the location was over $3,500. The City of Ontario charged over $1,600 for a building permit for the new concession building/announcer’s stand. The new building, even with manpower and materials donated, exceeded $36,800. The cost of painting the new building was lessened as members of the Ontario Honor Society spent a day with brushes and rollers in hand to whiten the new walls.

With the old, rusted, bent backstops safely in a dumpster, the Ontario School District added to the project with the purchase of new backstops, foul poles and bases.

“The list of people making this happen is huge,” Holcom said. “Andrew’s Seed has donated all the seed when Michael is ready to reseed the fields.”

The Friends of Ontario Softball have also become quite innovative in finding needed materials. Those in the National Guard will see a remnant of the past outside the new concession building. The outside stairs heading up to the second floor were purchased from the Idaho National Guard, surplus from old barracks from the Boise, Idaho location. Sanded down and repainted, stairs that once guided airmen to sleeping quarters will now guide announcers to call strikes and balls.

“The metal, trim, windows, doors and paint on the outside of the building along with some irrigation work was all donated,” explained Halcom.

The large-scale project has three phrases. Phase one, scheduled for completion by the spring of 2025, will open a portion of the complex to junior varsity practice. Phase two will have junior varsity teams playing games and the final phase will have the varsity Tigers hosting 4A Greater Oregon League opponents and others on the team’s truly home field.

“We can’t wait until we can set out our chairs and watch a game on our home field,” said Halcom.

“The time frame is for the grass to become strong enough for playing,” Navarrete explained. “The timing of the project also is tied to the weather conditions as the grass needs time to germinate and become strong.”

The idea of a true home field for the Tigers and expansion of the program into the middle school level could not be accomplished without the community’s assistance according to Ontario Superintendent Nic Albisu.

“It was the community and supporters of softball that truly took the lead on this,” said Albisu. “The Friends of Ontario Softball and the local businesses are the strength behind the project. The district is just happy to be able to step in and provide the final support to fund the completion of a much needed home field for Ontario softball.”

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