LIVE OAK, Fla. — The Suwannee Middle School softball team has a new best friend.
School officials and donors dedicated its new diamond — the SMS softball field — Monday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a game between the Bullpups and Suwannee High’s junior varsity.
“We have a field that we can be proud of and I’m very proud of that,” SMS athletic director Andrew Chapman said as the field was unveiled, little more than four months after receiving approval from the Suwannee County School Board.
“This isn’t for us. This is for the girls.”
SMS Principal Laura Williams added: “We’re so excited about this softball field. When Mr. Chapman came to me with this crazy idea in June, I never believed we could be here today.
“Mr. Chapman, this is because of you. I’m proud of you and grateful for you.”
Monday was the completion of a vision that Chapman had last summer. Late in the spring, Chapman saw the signs at the First Federal Sportsplex about not wearing metal cleats on the turf field.
Knowing that Suwannee Parks and Recreation had received additional grant funding to soon turf two of the other fields at the Sportsplex — including the field that SMS played on — Chapman realized he had a problem.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, where are we going to play?’” he said. “That kind of started the ball rolling of moving this field in the right direction.”
So Chapman jumped in to finding a solution. He contacted a contractor from Tampa that surveyed the land next to Tommie Abercrombie Field at SMS, who said it was possible to build the field on the site.
Those initial plans just included the basic field surface, Chapman said. There were no bleachers or other amenities.
Chapman said that plan, while encouraging, wasn’t what he had envisioned.
He had plenty of help from the community to make sure the field became much more.
“I really just felt God pressing something different,” Chapman said. “I felt like, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if the community was involved? If the community would come together for a common goal to do something great for this town. That’s been a passion of mine for awhile now.
“We have an awesome community. Very supportive.”
From a donation from First Federal Bank to a matching donation from the Suwannee Valley Community Foundation to contributions from countless parents and other community members to hours upon hours of donated time and effort in turning the open field into the softball diamond, especially SMS softball coach Greg Gabey and Alex Cameron.
“(Chapman) has the passion and he built this,” said Keith Leibfried, the CEO of First Federal as well as a Suwannee Valley Community Foundation board member. “He knew people would come and here we are.
“When I walked out here I was like, ‘He pulled it off.’”