NAPPANEE — An idea that has been talked about around NorthWood High School for nearly 15 years is finally coming to fruition.
Work has begun on the construction of a new baseball and softball complex on the school grounds, replacing the 51-year-old varsity baseball field and moving the softball fields from the off-campus Callander Sportsplex location to the campus.
The school named the project the “Field of Dreams” project, a tribute to the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner and the late Ray Liotta.
“We’re about a month into our project,” NorthWood sporting director Roman Smith said. “We actually had a facilities meeting (Thursday) and we’re ahead of schedule, which is great to be able to say, especially with the earthworks and everything. Things are happening on time, if not before, which is again a great situation to be in right now.
Discussions about upgrading the baseball field and moving softball fields to campus began in 2008, but a series of obstacles over the next 10 years kept the project from moving beyond the idea stage.
The facility will be located on the northeast corner of the property, further away from the high school building than where the current varsity baseball field is located. There will be four fully grass fields at the complex, one for varsity baseball, varsity softball, JV baseball and JV softball.
University fields will also have lights installed to accommodate weather-delayed games. This will also allow the school to be able to host semi-state regional baseball and softball tournaments as these need to be hosts given that the championship games of the respective tournaments are played at night.
There will be several roads connecting the new area, including one at CR 150 which passes just north of the school. Ample parking will also be added.
“It’s really kind of a prime location, from a facility standpoint for a facility of this size,” Smith said. “It really made sense.”
Another key part of the project is connecting the high school building to the activity center, which is right next to the high school. The two are currently not connected, which creates a safety risk for students attempting to visit the Center for gym classes or after-school practices.
NorthWood will now be the second school in the Northern Lakes Conference to have grass baseball and softball fields after Northridge opened its all-turf complex for the 2021 season.
“It’s huge,” NorthWood baseball coach AJ Risedorph said of getting a grass pitch. “The amount of time and energy that me and my staff spend preparing the pitch alone before a game, that disappears (with this new pitch). We can actually give our attention to our players now, as far as pre-match preparation Being able to go out earlier and more often in the season is also huge.
Smith said the new Northridge facility played a role in the design of NorthWood’s new complex.
“With the (Northridge) things implemented and the way they went about it, it may have changed some of our thinking about what our reality could be once we started posting plans and getting quotes,” Smith said. “…When you see a facility like this, what is it and how beneficial it is for the coaches, the kids, the community; its aesthetics could have changed our approach to it, in terms of artificial turf.
The new fields are expected to be ready for the spring 2023 season, which made Monday’s home baseball game for the Panthers against East Noble the last to be played on the original college field. Dozens of former players, and even former coach Bob Riley, attended the game and took part in a post-game celebration from the field.
“I think it was really awesome,” Risedorph said of Monday’s celebration. “It happened very quickly because East Noble wasn’t on our program originally. With the way the draw went, we had the option of looking for another team to keep our guys fresh and ready for this Saturday. Seeing a lot of coaches and ex-players come out was great because the current guys in our program got to see how much impact NorthWood baseball had on those guys.
New baseball and softball fields might not be the only changes coming to NorthWood High Schools athletic facilities in the near future. Speculation over the refurbishment of Andrews Field has been discussed for years, including the replacement of the natural grass football pitch with artificial turf.
“(Wa-Nee Schools Superintendent) Dr. Scot Croner and I are actually going to dive deep into our campus plan and start planning some of our future plans,” Smith acknowledged. “I think it’s safe to say that the football complex and Andrews Field will really be looked at next, in terms of how to move this forward. Is it synthetic grass? Are these new stands? Our track really needs updating, but I have different plans for that.
“We’re going to take a very hard look at a 10-year plan: ‘What does our campus footprint look like now that things have changed?’ We are lucky in that we have a lot of land on our campus, which many schools cannot say.