After a 14-year quest to provide better sports facilities for young athletes, the Youth Sports Foundation of Tuolumne County has finally hit a homerun by obtaining a grant to renovate the field behind the Sonora Dome, off Barretta Street.
The grant of almost $160,000 comes from Major League Baseball and will help the Youth Sports Foundation complete the second phase of its Dome Field renovation project. The field’s irrigation system will be replaced, a new practice diamond built, a new scoreboard bought, and more.
“Everyone wants to be a part of this exciting deal,” said Youth Sports Foundation President Dave Crocker. “I’ve got a tiger by the tail.”
Work on the sprinkler system will start Monday, and a “fallow,” or inactive period will eventually be required to let new grass take root. Sonora High Superintendent Mike McCoy said that the length of the fallow period is still to be determined.
But local athletes and their coaches are already eager to use the field to its full potential.
“We have never had a home field to call our own,” said Sonora High varsity softball coach Dena Canaday. “...When this opportunity came up and we could start using the Dome, it was so huge for us.”
Canaday said that before the varsity softball team started using Dome Field this year, it used a home field that was “no longer playable” or rented a field at the Standard Park Sports Complex.
“When you go out to Standard Park, that’s a beautiful facility and we love it, but we’re bused out there during school time,” Canaday said.
“Half of the joy of (playing) is the roar of the crowd and having your friends come out and see you play,” she explained. “...That’s what high school sports are about, and having a place to call your own.”
Canaday remembers playing at Dome Field herself as a high schooler. Crocker is the former alternative education principal at Dario Cassina High School, which occupies a building south of the Dome.
The Major League Baseball grant is part of a program called the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which promotes youth softball and baseball by providing money for fields.
It awards grants all over the world on a competitive basis, with about 400 applications received every year.
For the Dome Field project, Crocker is also expecting a $50,000 grant from the Sonora Area Foundation. The grant will become final when Sonora High and the Youth Sports Foundation establish policies for use of the field.
Crocker said that the Youth Sports Foundation’s approach has evolved throughout the years as it experimented with ways to expand athletic opportunities.
Established in 1998, the nonprofit foundation focused on creating a new sports complex with an emphasis on soccer. It first turned its attention towards Sonora High’s property on Tuolumne Road, now the site of Wildcat Ranch.
That project idea, as well as three or four others, was stopped by what Crocker called “predevelopment costs” associated with expanding off main roads.
At one time, the Youth Sports Foundation came close to establishing a partnership with Columbia Union School District and building a sports complex on district property.
Crocker said the partnership fell through and the nonprofit went back to the drawing board.
The Youth Sports Foundation eventually realized that “maybe we need to think smaller and do renovations of existing fields,” Crocker said.
It turned its attention back to Sonora Union High School District, which had the staff to maintain a renovated field.
Crocker and his colleagues gave a presentation to the Sonora High district board of trustees, which agreed that the district would maintain Dome Field after the renovation.
Phase II of the project will still require the Youth Sports Foundation to raise more money. Phase III of the project will involve moving two light poles.
The project’s first phase entailed “enormous amounts of earth moving” and finished in October 2010. Community donations and contributions from businesses started the second phase, with the Chicken Ranch casino giving money to keep the field playable through softball season.
Other supporters have included the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, the Sonora Rotary Club and the Woods Creek LIttle League.
Improvements made with community donations ultimately helped the foundation get the Major League Baseball money for the completion of Phase II, according to Crocker.
“We’ve had some very wonderful donors that have stayed loyal,” he said.
McCoy noted that Crocker also deserves kudos.
“A lot of the credit goes to (him) for his work pulling together not only money but community volunteers and private corporate support,” he said.
For Canaday, the excitement around the field is palpable.
“I can already feel what it’s going to be,” she said. “What’s going to happen is going to be unbelievable.”