Verbena to get field lights; Thorsby could be only county school left in the dark

Published 8:10 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The installation of lights will no doubt benefit Verbena’s baseball and softball programs, but one significant obstacle must first be overcome: money.

If lights are installed at Verbena’s two fields, as the Chilton County Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting voted to allow, Thorsby’s baseball field would be the only varsity baseball or softball facility in the county without lights.

Though coaches agreed on the benefits of a lighted field, they also agreed on the significant cost.

Rick Wilson with the Verbena booster club said he thinks lights could be installed on both fields for about $25,000.

But there should eventually be a return on the investment. Jemison installed lights on its baseball field before the 2006 season, a move coach Jason Easterling said paid immediate dividends.

“I went from $300-$400 gates to $800 or even $1,000,” Easterling said, “because it allows you to play later—more people can make it. And people come by and see the lights are on and stop by to see what’s going on.”

Verbena baseball coach Tommy Headley said his players are probably excited about the prospect of playing home games under the lights but said they would be used only when appropriate.

“We’re not going to play games in February at night” because of the usual low evening temperatures, Headley said. “The only reason we would use lights at the beginning of the season would be to finish a game.”

Thorsby coach Ab Argent said people involved with the baseball program discuss lights every year.

“Yeah, it would be nice to have lights,” Argent said. “But if we just had some money and I got to pick what we used it for, I’d say the indoor hitting facility. We can use the indoor hitting facility year-round.”

Argent might get his wish. School officials have discussed the construction of a new athletic facility, which would include a weight room and batting cages, adjacent to the current field house.

Thorsby baseball has an advantage over Verbena because of the town’s Richard Wood Park. Thorsby’s middle school and junior high teams both were allowed to play at youth league fields. Meanwhile, the only opportunity for Verbena’s junior high team to play was to travel with the varsity to away games and play either before or after the big boys—because Verbena has no youth league park and home doubleheaders with the varsity can’t be squeezed into daylight hours.

The junior high Red Devils played seven games this last season. Thorsby’s junior high squad played more than 20 games, Argent said.

Verbena’s booster club will raise the money necessary for the lights through fundraisers. Wilson said those involved with athletics at the school worked a concession stand at Auburn University home football games last season and raised about $14,000, which was split up among the various athletic programs, including cheerleading and band.

Wilson said he hopes Verbena can work both Auburn and University of Alabama games this fall and said that school athletic director Mike Harris had agreed a percentage of the money raised could go toward the light project.

The plan is have lights installed on both fields by the beginning of the next baseball and softball season.

Then, possibly, Verbena can look forward to more admission money—and a higher power bill to add to the list of expenses.

“With baseball, you’ve got to pay for fertilizer, watering the grass, equipment, gas for the buses,” Argent said. “Every time you turn around…more money.”