By BEN HANNEMAN
When the Pulaski Lady Cougars softball team hits the field for their first regular season game in a few weeks against Radford they may well be the envy of the River Ridge District and beyond – if for nothing else their new digs.
Sure they’re hoping their play on the field will be impressive as well, but right now their new dugouts are already turning heads and the project is still a ways from completion.
“These dugouts are the most beautiful thing in the world I’ve ever seen!” said Coach Gina Miano in a telephone interview last Friday.
And that’s saying something, considering the fields and facilities that Miano and company have visited over the years, like the Moyer Complex in Salem.
“Okay, you can’t beat that one, but for schools that have built at their site this is absolutely the nicest setup for dugouts that I have seen,” Miano said.
The new dugouts, made of concrete-type block, replace wooden dugouts that were erected on concrete pads in one weekend some 13 years ago by a group of softball boosters.
A spate of tornadoes and windstorms that hit the area this past June “took our visitors dugout and threw it into the soccer field,” as Miano described it, scattering bits and pieces over approximately 100 yards.
“The only things left were the concrete pads and the bench we’d made out of heavy wood,” Miano said, recalling the dramatic scene.
A month later, Miano, the PCHS softball boosters, and school administration began making plans to not just rebuild the damaged dugout but to also gut and completely replace the home dugout.
“We knew the school board was going to help us replace the one that was gone and when we started talking about it we didn’t want one great dugout and then a wooden dugout that would blow away in the next storm if it was hit right,” Miano said.
The Cougars and their boosters kicked off the fundraising efforts for the home dugout in August with a softball tournament that raised what Miano described as “some good money.”
With those funds to contribute, but admittedly still well shy of what they needed, Miano and the boosters approached PCHS school administrators, the Pulaski County Public School Board, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors, and other county officials hoping they would step to the proverbial plate. They did and a three-phase project began to take shape.
The first phase included matching 6×30-foot dugouts, angled Cardinal-colored metal roofs for easy water runoff, 16×30-foot storage rooms and other state-of-the-art features like slanted entrances to keep water and dirt out of the dugout, padded knee boards, and netting instead of fencing facing the field.
“That’s high-class. Colleges do that,” Miano said.
The storage room behind the Cougar dugout will eventually become the locker room, Miano said. Future phases will include spectator restrooms behind the locker room and a press box over the home dugout, none of which would be possible without the generosity of so many, but especially the Board of Supervisors.
“This has all been a planned project with the future in mind, which makes it incredible,” Miano said.
“I have to give them all the credit in the world because they could have turned around and built us wooden dugouts and then been done for a few thousand dollars. They didn’t do that and we are really grateful.”
Several local businesses also helped fund the project, including Chandler Concrete and Lowe’s, for which Miano said she will forever be grateful.
As soon as the roof is complete, which should be in the next week or so, a private donor is supplying shelves for the storage room, Miano said.
As smoothly as the project is progressing, Miano said they still need little things like bat racks and cubby-hole shelves for players to store equipment. She estimated the total for those “little things” at approximately $7,000 and welcomed any and all donations.
Miano encouraged anyone wishing to make a tax-deductable donation to the softball dugout project may do so by mailing a check or money order made out to the PCHS Softball Boosters to her attention at Pulaski County High School.
Any individual or business donating at least $500 will have a permanent 4×4-foot color sign installed along the fence around the field in appreciation for their donation.
Overall, Miano was also understandably overwhelmed with how well the pieces to what has been a giant puzzle have really just fallen into place in relatively no time at all.
“I’ve been coaching 15 years plus and this is probably the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The work that our coaching staff, the maintenance people, our school board people have put in has just been incredible. And it’s always been just something more (than we expected). They’ve just been so generous and helpful in helping us for that little bit extra and we’ll forever be thankful for that,” she said.
She’s also confident that the new digs will help motivate her team to excellence on the field as well.
“We plan on being first class. We plan on state and nothing less. You always play better when you’ve got nice stuff and we’re going to do everything we can to keep this place incredible,” Miano said.
The varsity Cougars are scheduled to open the pre-season March 4 with a scrimmage against Auburn. The home portion of the regular season is slated to be March 13 against Radford at 5 PM. Should the project be delayed by weather or any other reason the first home game may be moved to nearby Randolph Park if necessary.