The birth of a ball field

Plus: The top news of the week: Leaders spar over 2040 Plan — CMS-county funding dispute goes to mediation — 2 new schools and 800+ apartments planned for Ballantyne — Coach K retires

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With youth baseball fields in Charlotte in short supply, a Myers Park student transforms an unused church lot; ‘Good memories’ for Little Leaguers

For a Girl Scout project, a Myers Park student spearheaded the construction of a youth baseball field at Park Road Baptist Church, near Park Road Shopping Center. With fields scarce, Dilworth Little League says it’s the perfect size and has plenty of parking.

By Carroll R. Walton

In an age when Charlotte’s Little League baseball fields are in short supply, three forces converged to buck the trend and give rise to a new one at Park Road Baptist Church.

Pastor Russ Dean shared his vision for what was an old softball backstop in a quaint, tree-lined corner of the church’s property with Anne Frances Jarrell. Jarrell, who played trumpet in the Myers Park High School band with Dean’s son Bennett, was looking for a community project to fulfill the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award.

“I’d lived in Charlotte my whole life and been to band functions there,” she said. “I knew about the space. I could see it in my mind’s eye and I thought, ‘That’s awesome.’”

Jarrell, who played tee ball for Dilworth Little League as a first-grader and grew up gardening with her father, devised a plan to transplant bushes, clear out base paths and build team benches.

She budgeted $800 for supplies from her troop’s cookie-selling fund. The church offered $2,500 to cover the cost and installation of new outfield fencing. She calculated the infield dimensions and had her math teacher check her work.

“I had to have a hearing in front of a panel of three people from the district council,” she said. “I had to say where I was getting the money, who it was going to benefit, and how this will be sustainable after I’ve gone off to college.”

Once Jarrell got an enthusiastic go-ahead, Dean borrowed a backhoe from his uncle to dig up the bushes along the third base line himself. Lowe’s was hired to install a chain link fence around the outfield and to extend both sides of the backstop. But it was Jarrell and a small group of family and friends who killed grass for the base paths, poured concrete for bench posts and dug holes behind the outfield fence for bushes.

After two months of Saturdays, their work was done. Near Park Road Shopping Center — adjacent to the church’s community garden and opposite several houses along Hough Road — is a picturesque mini-diamond with 50-foot base paths. Both Russ and his wife Amy, co-pastors at Park Road Baptist, spoke at a dedication after church. Then some kids played a pickup game in their Sunday best.

“It’s exactly what I had in mind,” said Dean, whose staff had laid out a long-range plan to use “every square inch of our campus for something positive.”

Before and after: Anne Frances Jarrell (inset) took the initiative to convert an unused field at Park Road Baptist Church into a baseball diamond. Dilworth Little League played its first tee ball games at the site this spring.

By the time Jarrett graduated from Myers Park High School in the spring of 2017, Dilworth Little League was using the field for tee ball practice.

“We were running into a lot of problems at Freedom Park,” said Dilworth Little League president Chris Pineno. “If you’ve been to Freedom Park on a Saturday morning when soccer is going on and we’ve got baseball going on, you know parking can get challenging. Park Road Baptist is perfect because parking is plentiful — it’s easy in, easy out — it’s a great size field for us, and it’s convenient. It’s close to Freedom Park, so a lot of our families live within a couple of miles.”   

This past winter, as Jarrell neared graduation from the University of North Carolina, Dilworth Little League decided to pick up where she left off. The league invested $5,000 to upgrade the field with fresh dirt and reset the mound and bases.

Surge of young ballplayers: The makeover was ready just in time for a record registration in Dilworth’s tee ball division coming out of Covid. Pineno said the league had 147 kids signed up for tee ball, well above the normal 110-120 for a spring season. And for the first time this year, Dilworth Little League used the field not only for practices but games as well. The arrangement worked out so well, the league plans to invest another $5,000 in upkeep of the field before next spring.

“I’m touched it’s actually gotten so much use,” said Jarrell, who is bound for the University of Georgia in the fall, where she’ll pursue a Ph.D. in plant biology. “That really makes me happy.”

Both of Dean’s sons, Bennett and his older brother Jackson, played baseball through high school at Myers Park; Jackson went on to pitch at Presbyterian College. Dean said he can’t help but pull out of the church parking lot sometimes and turn left, so he can drive by 4- and 5-year-olds running the bases, taking swings and working on their ground balls as they kick up dirt with their buddies.

 “Sometimes I’ll stop and just take a look and remember when my boys were that age, and we were playing tee ball,” he said. “Good memories. We had so many good years with baseball. I’m glad to see other families enjoying it like we did.”

Carroll R. Walton is a freelance writer in Charlotte. She is a former baseball writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and co-author of “Ballplayer” with Chipper Jones. You can find her on Twitter @CarrollRogers.


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This week in Charlotte: CMS funding dispute heads to mediation, 2040 Plan disagreements, murders on pace to surpass 2020, Coach K and Mick Mixon to retire

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Education

  • County budget contested by CMS: (WBTV) Mecklenburg County voted on Tuesday to adopt a $2B operating budget for fiscal year 2022. The budget is an increase of $105M, or 5.5%, over the current budget. The county is withholding $56M from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools until the district provides an educational attainment plan. The school board announced it will initiate a dispute resolution statute to reach an agreement with the county. The two boards are expected to meet Monday afternoon with a mediator, former Charlotte City Attorney Mac McCarley.

  • Closer look at disparity numbers: (WFAE) Veteran education reporter Ann Doss Helms examines the data on gaps in student achievement — and finds that while the numbers for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools look bad, the district has plenty of company. “The gaps that show up in CMS are nearly universal and have persisted for decades, across changes in school boards and superintendents,” she writes.

Politics

  • Differences on 2040 Plan: (Ledger 🔒, Axios Charlotte, Biz Journal) The city’s economic development director and planning director are at odds over the proposed 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Memos leaked this week show that the head of the city’s business recruitment office, Tracy Dodson, wrote to planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba last week with concerns about provisions on building heights and community benefit agreements. Jaiyeoba replied that the plan doesn’t inhibit business recruitment and that Dodson’s office had not previously raised these issues. The City Council is expected to vote on the plan later this month.

  • Election could be pushed back: (Winston-Salem Journal) The N.C. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would postpone municipal elections in Charlotte and 34 other cities and towns, supposed to be held this November, until March and April 2022 because of delays in census data needed to redraw electoral districts. Primaries would be March 8, with the general election April 26.

Local news

  • More murders: (Axios Charlotte) The number of homicides in Charlotte is running ahead of where it was last year by about 10. In 2020, the number of murders hit its highest point in 21 years.

  • New Ballantyne park: (Ledger) Some 100 acres that were formerly the Golf Club at Ballantyne are now a public park open dawn to dusk, called “Ballantyne’s Backyard.” Northwood Office, which is developing the massive Ballantyne Reimagined mixed-use project, announced Tuesday that the community is invited to use “miles of running/walking trails, rolling hills, fishing ponds and more.”

Business

  • Teen employment: (Ledger 🔒) The tight job market has meant new opportunities for teens, who are filling in for adults who haven’t yet re-entered the workforce. Pay is rising, too, while some employers struggle to find enough workers.

  • Growing Ballantyne: (Ledger 🔒) A developer announced a total of 800 apartments and for-rent townhomes in Ballantyne in two different locations — both of which are near proposed schools.

Sports

  • Coach K to retire: (ESPN) Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has the most wins of any coach in college basketball, announced he’ll retire at the end of next season and be replaced by associate coach and former player Jon Scheyer. Krzyzewski, 74, led Duke to five national championships and coached the U.S. Olympic team.

  • Sportswriter remembered: (Observer) Longtime Charlotte Observer sportswriter Rick Bonnell, who covered the Charlotte Hornets beginning with the team’s first season in 1988, was found dead in his home Tuesday at age 63. Hornets owner Michael Jordan said in a statement: “I’m very sad to learn about Rick’s passing. Rick was a staple at Hornets games, dating back to my playing days at the old Charlotte Coliseum.”

  • Voice of the Panthers retiring: (Panthers) Mick Mixon, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Carolina Panthers, says he plans to retire at the end of next season after 17 years. He was previously a radio broadcaster for UNC Chapel Hill’s basketball and football games.

Good reads

  • A donor’s influence, and the future of journalism: (The Assembly) An article by John Drescher reveals that Walter Hussman, the top donor and namesake of the school of journalism and media at UNC Chapel Hill, had expressed his concerns to university administrators and at least one trustee about the school’s potential hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones as Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. “The previously unreported pushback by one of UNC Chapel Hill’s biggest donors underscores issues about donor influence at the university, which is increasingly reliant on major gifts … It also reveals a new front in a growing national debate about objectivity in newsrooms: journalism schools themselves,” Drescher writes.

  • A veteran political reporter retires: (Charlotte magazine) Jim Morrill, who retired recently after spending more than three decades as the Charlotte Observer’s primary political reporter, reflects on politics, journalism and a heartbreaking personal loss.

From the Ledger family of newsletters

  • Country club turns over records: (Ledger Wednesday 🔒) Myers Park Country Club has handed over more than 1,000 pages of accounting documents as part of a lawsuit from a club member, who wants details on the finances behind the club’s planned $27M renovation. The renovation is controversial because it proposes to expand a men’s-only area called the “men’s grill” into a prominent space that’s now a coed dining area called “The Terrace.”

  • She knew what kids needed — love: (Ways of Life 🔒) Wherever she went, Elizabeth “Lib” Nicholas heeded her calling to be an advocate of children — whether as a longtime teachers assistant at Eastover Elementary, in her church or in the community. She died May 4 at the age of 85.

  • Buses are the key to regional transit: (Transit Time) Regional transit leaders are hoping that better coordination among Charlotte-area bus systems can be an important part of establishing a successful transit network.

  • When libraries go fine-free: (Ledger 🔒) Charlotte’s library system is the latest to eliminate late fines and wipe away fees, joining a growing movement aimed at removing an economic barrier that advocates say disproportionately impacts lower-income residents. But what happens when fines go away? Will borrowers still return books on time, without the threat of financial punishment?

  • Covid progress: (Ledger 🔒) With Covid numbers falling, Mecklenburg County is disbanding its interagency Covid policy team. And a Ledger analysis of local Covid death numbers shows Mecklenburg Covid deaths have been in the single digits per week for more than two months.

  • Rezoning action (Ledger 🔒): Developers filed plans for apartments and townhouses all over the city in May, according to rezoning filings that The Ledger makes available to paying members each month.


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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: Lindsey Banks