RICHLANDS, Va. — It will one day be known as Rhonda Blevins Field. For now, Ronnie Davis has another name for the new home of the Richlands softball team.
“The girls sort of scratched around, played at the rec park and then we were fortunate enough to get Williams Field,” said Davis, Richlands softball coach. “Now this is sort of our ‘Field of Dreams.’”
Richlands will play a scrimmage game today with Northwood. It will be the Lady Blues’ first outing on a complex that has been more than three years in the making, led by a long list of contributors who have assisted through donations or manpower to make this dream become reality.
“Dave Lamie and his family donated tens of thousands of hours up here doing labor themselves,” Davis said. “We are just fortunate enough that he just took this on his shoulders and wanted to do it. We are just fortunate...
“We are just lucky that we have so many people in Richlands community that have donated their time, machinery and their men and so forth.”
For all the success Richlands has had in football, its two state championships on the gridiron are matched by the Lady Blues, which won consecutive Group AA titles in 1995-96, only three years after Blevins helped to start the program.
“A lot of people don’t realize that even though the football team has got two state championships, softball has got two too,” Lamie said. “They started the softball program here in 1992 and they won the state championship in ‘95 and ‘96. It didn’t take long at all.”
The goal is to get back to that point. This field is part of the plan.
“We want to get back where we are going to the state tournament every year,” said Davis, whose Lady Blues last got to that point in 2012, falling to Broadway 3-2 in the quarterfinals. “It has been four years since we have been to the state tournament and we want to get back to that level of consistency.
“Back when Coach Blevins had it, we went to the state tournament about every year, winning district championships, regional championships so that is what we want to get softball program back to.”
• • •
Richlands softball has always been a team without a home on campus. That will finally change, effective today.
“This is Richlands High School softball field. Any girl that ever played here, I know they are proud of it. Coach Blevins is tickled to death,” said Davis, who was an assistant for Blevins for several years. “Eventually whenever she retires we are going to name it Rhonda Blevins Field.”
The Lady Blues will play their first regular season game there on March 30 against Wise Central.
“Hopefully we will have a good dedication,” Davis said. “We can have the donors and everyone that participated and helped us will be here and we will have a lot of first pitches thrown out.”
Until now the Lady Blues have played in other locations around town, first on a men’s softball field at the local recreation park and later at the very popular Williams Field.
“It was a scheduling nightmare having to both play (at Williams Field),” said Lamie, who is the vice-president of the Richlands Little League. “You had to get the little league games in, get the high school games in, it was a nightmare, but it was good because we got to work together so it is definitely motivation for us.”
Richlands’ baseball team once played on a field located adjacent to Ernie Hicks Stadium and the middle and elementary schools. Eventually they moved to Southwest Virginia Community College and the junior varsity team has since moved to a baseball field at Williams Field Park.
That left a field without a team, but not for long.
“I played on this baseball field so it brings back a lot of memories...,” Davis said. “This was vacant for a few years and we figured we could use it. (Richlands principal) Mrs. (Kim) Ringstaff and the school board allowed us to start working on it, it has been a three-year deal going on.”
Davis said it was Lamie who began the process of creating an on-campus softball field in 2014, even while Davis had left Richlands one year to teach at Virginia High.
“Dave put the ball in motion and has done, I should say, 100 percent of getting people to donate money,” Davis said. “He is the one that went to the school board meetings and presented it and he is the guy that has called all these people, the donors and so forth and for grants to get this money.”
All that work has been worth it for Lamie, whose daughter, Autumn, is a former softball player at Richlands, and he has another daughter in fifth grade who will eventually play on the new field for the Blues.
“I have been around ball my whole life,” Lamie said. “We have always had to work with the high school down there on the Critterville field (at Williams Park) so we have gotten to know the teams and coaches real well
“That was the motivator for us to get their own field up here.”
• • •
It was Lamie who basically served as manager of the project.
“We have done a lot of work up here, all the way from grade work to laying the block and putting the roof down and all that stuff, just coordinating and getting all the donations and everything,” Lamie said. “Probably 85 percent of the work that went on was all donated. Even though it still cost money 85 percent of the work was probably donated.”
The remnants of the old baseball field had to be removed first, followed by the installation of a $50,000 drainage system. The only existing structure from the old field to remain is a scoreboard that was once used by the Richlands JV baseball team.
“Everything else is brand spanking new...,” Davis said. “Everything was wiped clear here, it just looked like a vacant lot after we took it all down, the fences and dugouts and so forth. We started with the drainage and went from there, contractors coming in and putting up the dugouts and the press box. It has been a long tedious process, and we are just tickled to death that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Davis played baseball at Richlands and Bluefield College, but has developed an affinity for high school softball.
“Softball is a fast-paced game,” Davis said. “It is quick, getting in and out, great pitching means a great team, a lot of strategy in softball.”
Davis, who had served as co-coach with Dennis Palmer in recent seasons, is excited about the season ahead. The Lady Blues, who were 9-14 last season, have experienced pitching in Katie Richardson and Allie Staten, along with talented catcher Alex Hill, whose father, Rocky, has also assisted with the project.
“Every day when (Alex) comes out here, she says, ‘Coach Davis, it is great to be here’,” Davis said.
It’s safe to say the field is a hit. The interest among students wanting to play Richlands softball has been high.
“We have had more girls come out this year when we have had in the last two years,” said Davis, who still has plan to erect lights and an indoor facility and hopes to bring dollars into the community by hosting tournaments on the complex. “I think it is partly for the love of softball in this area, plus they don’t have to hop on a bus and go practice anymore, they can walk from the school.
“The uptempo of practice has been great, we can get practice right after school, we don’t have to wait 30 minutes for travel, The community effort has gotten behind it. The people that have donated money that have gotten behind the idea of this program and we are looking for great things to happen from this point and get back where we used to be in softball.”
• • •
The memories of those days are still clear. This is the 20th anniversary of Richlands winning the 1996 state softball title. Plans are being made to recognize both the ‘95 and ‘96 teams prior to a game, possibly on April 19 when the Blues host Tazewell.
“We are hoping all those girls will come out,” Davis said. “Everybody is tickled to death with this field...It is something I know Richlands High School is proud of, the school board is proud of, they gave us permission to do it.
“It has just been a big community effort, it is something the girls can call their own, they are so proud of it. I have had so many texts and emails and facebook messages from alumni for the girls talking about how proud they are and happy that the girls have something they can all their own.”
The football facilities at Richlands have long been the envy of most other communities in the region. The softball field promises to be much the same.
“When everything does get completed this is going to be one of the best softball field and facilities in Southwest Virginia,” Davis said. “I talked to (football) Coach (Greg) Mance about it. We want our kids to have the best, just like what we have got in football, we want the same thing for our girls also.
“Big things are happening here with our softball program. We have just got to turn them loose on the field.”
/ Twitter @bdtwoodson