Sanctioned middle school baseball could come to Henderson County Public Schools next spring, possibly renovating an eyesore to its former glory in the process.
Scott Rhodes, the district’s chief human resource officer, is seeking funding from the county to create baseball teams at Apple Valley, Flat Rock, Hendersonville and Rugby middle schools. Henderson County is the only school system in Western North Carolina without middle school baseball.
The move would be a home run for the organizers of the Henderson County Middle School Baseball, a league unaffiliated with the school system that was created years ago to fill the void. Each school has a team, but they can't compete against other schools in the region.
Rhodes, who coaches the Flat Rock Middle Eagles squad in the league, pitched the idea to the Henderson County School Board during its budget workshop Monday. Rhodes’ plan met little-to-no resistance from board members as Rhodes explained the benefits.
“Research has shown when we give students the opportunity to connect, especially at the middle school level, it allows them to have a better opportunity to stay in school,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes said the games would be played at Berkeley Mills Park, possibly Jackson Park and the old ballfield at Blue Ridge Community College.
It’ll cost $20,000 to start up the program, Rhodes estimates, which includes $3,000 in supplements for two coaches at each school. Another $2,000 would be for each school to start up its team: uniforms, equipment, etc. It will part of the school board's upcoming budget request for the county commissioners in May.
If commissioners do provide the funding, HCMSB board member Mike Porter said they would absolutely shut down the rec league to make way for a county-backed program.
“We’re one of two counties in the whole entire state of North Carolina that doesn’t have sanctioned middle school baseball,” said Porter. “All the counties around us have them. We play football, basketball, every other sanctioned sport but we don’t have middle school baseball.”
HCMSB is essentially a rec league. Players get to wear their school colors, but they only play against the same three teams in the county throughout the season at Berkeley Mills Park. Neighboring counties don’t want to play against unaffiliated teams, Porter said, because the games don’t count.
There is also a $125 fee to sign up, games are played after school and it's up to the students to find rides to games.
“We’ve done everything we could to try to make it as close as we could to an actual school event, but it’s just not the same,” said Porter. “It’s just time for the county to take it over. It’s the right thing to do for the kids.”
Sanctioned teams would allow Henderson County’s students to compete on the diamond against other schools in the Blue Ridge Middle School Conference as they do every other sport. Students would ride an activity bus to practices and games.
Sixth graders would also be allowed to compete along with seventh and eighth graders, matching the other middle school sports besides football.
Porter said interest in middle school baseball is strong. Each of the four teams has about 15 players and more boys than that try out for the limited spaces at the beginning of the season.
There’s still the question of who will pay to get the old ballfield at Blue Ridge Community College back to playing shape. The field has fallen into disrepair since BRCC's baseball team played its last season in 2009.
The old ballfield was a proposed site for the county’s law enforcement training center and indoor shooting range before officials pulled the plug. According to the college, the field is currently leased to Henderson County at no cost.
Rhodes said the current field would need to be killed off and resewed with a better playing surface, such as Kentucky bluegrass. He also said the renovated field would improve the look of the college’s entrances and provide a recreational option to the nearby Innovate High School.
“If I’m being honest about that facility right now, it doesn’t look good for our community, Blue Ridge Community College, or our schools,” said Rhodes. “I can assure that if there’s a commitment made to this it will be done right.”