UVA Wise Breaks Ground on New Turf Softball, Baseball Fields for Spring 2024 Season

Chancellor Henry speaks during ceremony
UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry announces the $3.8 million dollar athletics softball and baseball project.

No more diamonds in the rough. UVA Wise broke ground with ceremonial shovels Monday to kick off construction of new artificial turf baseball and softball fields, a momentous capital investment for the College’s campus.

Slated for completion for the spring 2024 season, the estimated $3.8 million project will replace the existing natural grass softball and baseball fields, which were installed in 2005 and 2004 respectively. It also includes the expansion of the softball field.

“This was the perfect day for a doubleheader. It’s not every day you get to break ground on one, much less two, landmark campus improvements. It’s a game-changer for the College,” UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “I’m extremely excited for our student athletes, our campus community and all of our fantastic Highland Cavalier fans. This investment has been a long time in the making. We look forward to hosting more home games along with high school, college and travel ball tournaments that will greatly support and boost our vibrant campus experience and regional economy.”

Joining Chancellor Henry at the formal groundbreaking ceremony Monday for welcoming remarks were UVA Wise Athletics Director Kendall Rainey ’05, UVA Wise Softball Coach Karen Bitter, UVA Wise Baseball Coach Brandon Costa, and Honor The Future Campaign Co-Chairs Lewey Lee ’64 and Rhonda Perkins ’73.

A large crowd of supporters donning Highland Cavalier red included softball and baseball student players, alumni, staff, faculty and community members who celebrated the upgrades to the east entrance of UVA Wise’s 396-acre campus.  

“Thank you on behalf of the current and future student athletes at this College for investing in our future success, on and off the field,” UVA Wise Vice Chancellor of Advancement and Alumni Engagement Valerie Lawson ’87 said. “I’m overjoyed for our baseball and softball programs and thankful to all of our generous donors who helped us get here today—making our Fields of Dreams come true.”

The new athletic fields are possible from generous private support and donations, Lawson said. Nearly half of the donations have been committed as part of the ongoing Honor The Future Campaign. A new fall campaign will provide additional opportunities to complete the project’s funding needs.

“Athletics plays such an important role in the life of the College. Student-athletes at UVA Wise perform well in the classroom and in life. They learn key skills as part of an athletic team such as integrity, honor, commitment and also how to function as an integral part of the team,” Lee said. “We asked our student-athletes to give us their best even when they haven’t had the best fields on which to practice and compete, but those days are over.”

“We are investing in you, ladies, and we have the faith and confidence that this new field will ignite a fire in you to perform at your best not only here on this field, but in the classroom as well. Our athletes are some of our very best students, and we are so proud of that fact,” Perkins said.

Demolition crews immediately got to work on both fields, and construction is expected to take four to six months.

“This is a big step forward in our athletics strategic plan and a huge advancement for our student athlete experience and competitiveness,” Rainey said. “It’s great for the players, great for the staff and great for our fans.”

The existing natural grass baseball and softball fields have faced significant weather challenges in recent years, resulting in both teams playing a majority of games on the road, Rainey said.

The projects play another critically important role: improving both fields’ drainage, a constant issue from inclement weather. Replacing the natural surface with top, industry standard, artificial turf will provide student athletes more time on their home fields. The new turf will also improve speed, bounce and line consistency. The new fields will feature athletic logos and replaceable batters’ boxes.

Burchell “Slew” Stallard Baseball Field will be replaced with Field Turf Double Play Natural, the same surface as found on other universities in NCAA Division I and II.

“This turf installation will have a tremendous impact on our program immediately. Practices will be efficient with more quality reps for our players. No longer will we have to take a practice day off because of snow or rain,” Coach Costa said. “That also means more home games and less travel time and missed classes.”

Coach Costa praised his team which has averaged a GPA above 3.0 for the past eight semesters despite a tough travel schedule.

“It will be a nice change not to have to go on the road for the first 20 to 25 games of the season,” he said. “This will help our student athletes stay organized and on track in the classroom, but I think, more importantly, having the ability to play at home will help our players manage their stress better.”

The new baseball field will make a big impression at the entrance to the College, says Coach Costa.

“It will give us that ‘Wow’ factor as soon as a recruit and their family pulls into campus. This field will show our recruits that UVA Wise cares about their player development and overall experience as a student athlete,” he said. 

The Highland Cavaliers baseball team’s success includes three conference championships and four regional tournament appearances.

“We look forward to our campus community and the community of Wise coming to our state-of-the-art facility and enjoying some baseball this spring,” he said.

Diagonally located behind Greear Gymnasium, Cavalier Softball Field’s new surface will be Field Turf Triple Threat similar to other NCAA Division II colleges and universities.

“It’s without a doubt a program and life changer for our student athletes, team staff and campus,” Coach Bitter said. “Our softball players will get to practice more outside, play more games at home and spend less time traveling and out of class. Soon, our entire campus and surrounding community will be able to cheer us on in a state-of-the-art facility.”

In order to practice or play their games after inclement weather, softball players and coaches would carry buckets of water off the tarp in order to keep additional water off the failing drainage system. Bags of Quick Dry and Turfus would also be carried and raked into the field to make it playable.

"Rather than spending so much of their time on field maintenance, they’ll be focused on winning games and succeeding academically,” Coach Bitter said. “All of these improvements will make a significant impact on our day-to-day life, as well as recruiting student athletes to our program. There’s never been a better time to play Highland Cavalier ball.”

The new softball field will also increase from 200 to 220 feet meeting NCAA tournament hosting regulation size.

“With the new turf field, we hope to be in a position to host an NCAA Regional again as well as more camps, clinics, high school games and travel ball tournaments,” Coach Bitter said.

The College’s softball team is home to seven conference championships, hosted the NCAA Regional Tournament in 2017 and competed in the NAIA World Series in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

For those interested in financially supporting the project, gifts can be made, designating the donation to softball, baseball or both, to the UVA Wise Foundation at 1 College Avenue, Wise, Va. 24293. Interested parties can also give online at https://www.uvawise.edu/advancement.