Saying more practice and playing time is needed to accommodate an increasingly popular program, the volunteers who run youth softball in New Canaan are proposing the installation of lights on a second field at Waveny.
Lighting what’s known as the “Water Tower Field”—located alongside the milled, soon-to-be-expanded parking lot near the water towers, its outfield backs into that of the varsity “Orchard Field”—would enable New Canaan Softball and other youth sports programs to run dozens of additional practices and games for three seasons of the year, according to representatives from the nonprofit organization.
“Our league is growing exponentially,” New Canaan Softball President Robin Biasotti told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their Sept. 11 meeting, held at Lapham Community Center.
“Every year, every season, it keeps getting more and more. We are waiting to see where it tops out but it has been three years now and we just haven’t seen that. So we are hoping to partner with you to provide for our growing league.”
Specifically, the organization is proposing a public-private partnership whereby the town contributes half of an estimated $125,000 to install four light poles over the Water Tower Field. (Putting in longer-lasting LED lights would cost $150,000, officials said.) In pursuing the plan for the last few years, New Canaan Softball has already raised about $75,000, Biasotti and two other members of the organization—Vice President Jessica Connolly and board member Nick DiMuzio—told the Commission.
Though the Commission took no formal vote, members voiced support for New Canaan Softball’s plan and encouraged the board to find out whether a special appropriation—such as the one that helped fund the multimillion turf fields project at the high school next door—might be a better way to move forward, as compared to the rigorous capital budget process, through which funds wouldn’t be available until July 1 at the earliest.
Time is of the essence, as the space and time crunch already can be felt on New Canaan’s softball diamonds. While the Orchard Field has had light towers for several years, a lack of similar lighting at the Water Tower Field, which is shared with the New Canaan High School junior varsity team, means it cannot be used after 6 or 7 p.m. during the spring, 8 p.m. during the summer or 6 p.m. in the fall. Connolly said that for the first time last spring, New Canaan Softball’s numbers were so high that two teams or 24 kids had to “double up,” creating a safety concern “with little girls swinging bats around, who are still little” and just two coaches per team to oversee them.
According to the organization, 18 teams in the “house” league now accommodate more than 220 New Canaan girls aged 5 to 16, while an all-New Canaan 10-and-under all star team for the first time won districts for the first time this year.
Here’s a chart detailing the sport’s increasing popularity in New Canaan:
New Canaan Softball, Program Growth
|Year||No. Players||No. Travel|
Asked what’s the reason for that growth, Connolly pointed to New Canaan Softball’s fun and inclusive approach, and a kindergarten program launched three years ago that saw 50 girls enroll in its first season.
“They keep coming back,” Connolly said of the players and parents who follow a program to serve as volunteer coaches. “Our retention is awesome. They keep telling their friends about it. And I think that’s why we have had such fast growth.”
Parks & Rec Chair Sally Campbell said that while there’s no guarantee the town will fund the capital project, “it’s a compelling need and the town has certainly helped other sports.”
“And I think it’s wonderful that you have so many girls involved,” she added. “The more opportunities you have for kids, the better off they are.”
According to Biasotti, the organization’s mission is to “instill a sense of self-confidence, teamwork and pride in our girls through love of the game of softball.”
Recreation Director Steve Benko said that conduits for the light poles at Water Tower Field already are underground, following a plan to install lighting there more than a dozen years ago that was aborted due to lack of funds.
The Commissioners asked New Canaan Softball whether they use the men’s softball fields at Waveny (not really), who pays for the electricity on fields lights (the town), whether the town could earn credits for opting for LED lights (ask the public works director), whether other sports could benefit from the additional time on the Water Tower Field (yes, girls’ flag football, for example) and how the organization has raised so much money.
In response to the last question, Connolly said New Canaan Softball raised $15,000 at its first fundraiser recently “but honestly between 2015 and now we have just been super tight about how we spend our money.”
“We have had this goal of lights because we knew our goal was to keep growing the program,” she said.
Biasotti praised Benko and Parks Superintendent John Howe of the Department of Public Works for their responsiveness, organization and support in making the softball fields ready.
She said that lighting the Water Tower Field was the most feasible way to address New Canaan Softball’s space needs—as opposed to building a new field someplace else in town, for example, or turfing the fields at Waveny.
“Turf fields in Waveny?” Biasotti said. “I’m not sure I would want to sell anybody on that … I’m hoping we can make it through with the beautiful dirt and grass fields that we have, i just think it’s a lovely part of the park.
DiMuzio, speaking for his own daughter, who entered the program three years ago, said it’s grown mostly because of local word-of-mouth.
“People talk about it,” DiMuzio said. “They are doing well. They are enjoying themselves and they make great friends. And it is a really open environment, a safe environment, and a fun environment. It’s a lot of fun.”
Benko credited Biasotti and Connolly as well as Rob Moore, now co-president of New Canaan Baseball, with helping to turn around the local softball program about seven years ago when “it just wasn’t a fun activity.”
“We had a terrible split about seven, eight ago between one all-star team and it just soured everybody and kids quit the program,” Benko recalled. “Rob came in and like these here [the current softball board] made it fun again. It’s just a great activity, hats off to them.”