After years of trying to secure a permanent home field for Sonora's varsity softball team, Wildcats head coach Dena Canaday said Thursday's opening day at the newly renovated Dome Field at Cassina High School lived up to expectations.

"I could tell from the number of people in the stands to the kids on the field to alumni who came and visited that everyone was just excited for us," said Canaday.

The Youth Sports Foundation of Tuolumne County, led by Dave Crocker, spearheaded the project and helped secure grants from Major League Baseball and the Sonora Area Foundation to make the renovation a reality.

Crocker explained the organization, established in 1998, had been trying since its inception to get new soccer fields constructed in the area but faced a number of hurdles.

"Up here we're just starved for flat land," he explained. "We ran into problems getting a flat piece of property that was the right size and costs associated with development studies."

The issues prompted the group to shift its focus to renovating existing fields and Crocker was just stepping down as principal at Cassina High when the decision was made to try and get the lower field below the Sonora Dome filled.

After the lower field was filled in October 2010, Crocker was awarded a $160,000 grant from the MLB for the second phase of the project which included installing an irrigation system, cutting the softball diamond and more.

Local community service groups donated time, money and resources to see the project become a reality as well, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 391, Sonora Lions Club, Sonora Rotary and local businesses such as Plum Construction, Chicken Ranch Casino and Land and Structure.

Sonora-based excavation and grading company Njirich and Sons was contracted to do most of the heavy construction work, but also donated equipment and resources to help keep costs low.

Sonora High Superintendent Mike McCoy visited the fields before the start of the varsity game Thursday. He said the new field should give a boost to the school's softball program, which had been in need of a dedicated home field.

"This is what a community project in small town America looks like and you don't see this other places," said McCoy "There are very few people in Tuolumne County who will say no when it comes to a good cause."