For UVA Wise’s baseball team, a day out at the ball park Saturday was a day for the record books.
Not only was it the first game of the season, but it was the first time the Highland Cavaliers played on their new artificial turf field, allowing for the earliest intercollegiate game ever played in the spring calendar.
UVA Wise Senior Justin Reed made some history of his own.
“I didn’t realize I had the first hit on the field until after our first game and my grandad told me when I spoke with him. It was a very special moment,” said Reed, a Nickelsville native who is majoring in exercise science. “These past four years at UVA Wise have been full of hard work and commitment so it was a very surreal moment for me.”
Before the season opener, UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry, Athletics Director Kendall Rainey, UVA Wise Baseball Coach Brandon Costa and a host of other Highland Cavaliers, fans, supporters and alumni came out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and to cheer on the new season on the new field.
“It’s a great day for UVA Wise and Southwest Virginia. I am so thrilled that we have made it to this historic day in the life of our baseball program,” UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said.
Henry said for many years UVA Wise coaches have suggested that the College transition to a turf field.
“Some people have asked why—although we are blessed to be located in the beautiful mountains, the winters can be quite harsh, especially to the playing surface of baseball. The field has been plagued with drainage issues for years,” Henry said. “Former baseball players have shared many stories and I have witnessed the hard work our coaches and players have had to put in to protect the field when it rains. And, far too often, the team has not been able to practice nor compete for a good part of the spring semester. Hopefully, those days are over now.”
The baseball field is named for Burchell “Slew” Stallard, who played at both the University of Virginia and Milligan College before coaching and teaching hundreds of students in Southwest Virginia. He served with distinction in World War II in the Ninth Air Force, 442nd Troop Carrier Group, part of C-47 Skytrain. He presented the American Flag to the mayor of Saint-Andre’, France during Liberation ceremonies. He was in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
“Stallard was an inspirational teacher, coach and servant leader. He graduated from Coeburn High School and was a standout athlete, playing on four championship football teams,” Henry said at the ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday. “I never had the opportunity to know Mr. Stallard, nor his wife, Iloe Read Stallard, a Board member and generous donor at UVA Wise, but I know they would be incredibly proud of this new field and that it continues to serve as a legacy of the powerful impact they made while living and will continue to do so into the future.”
Henry also thanked the numerous past and present donors who made the field upgrade possible.
“I want to thank those who invest in our facilities to improve the experience of our student-athletes. Every gift makes a difference,” Henry said.
Demolition on the natural field and installation of the Field Turf Double Play Natural—the same surface as found on other universities in NCAA Division I and II—began last July. The $2.4 million project is being funded by private support.
“Enabling the teams to practice on the fields early in the season and host competitions is a game changer for us and our region. I am elated, proud and grateful for this moment for our players, coaches, fans, alumni and anyone who has ever pulled the tarp, watered the field or poured surface and quick dry,” said UVA Wise Athletics Director Kendall Rainey said.
Baseball Coach Brandon Costa thanked many who contributed to the field and expressed his gratitude to Wise Central baseball coach Kelly Foster, who shared their field so that the Highland Cavaliers could get in every practice this fall while construction of Stallard Field’s turf surface was underway.
The new field offers the opportunity to host tournaments for college and high school teams, locally and beyond, which will showcase the College.
The Highland Cavaliers baseball team’s success includes three conference championships and four regional tournament appearances.
The baseball field is only one part of the improvements made to sporting fields on the east side of campus.
Next Saturday, Feb. 10, the Highland Cavalier Softball team will kick off its new season with a new artificial field, a Field Turf Triple Threat surface, which is similar to other NCAA Division II colleges and universities. The $1.4 million softball artificial turf field project is being funded by private support.
A ribbon cutting for the new softball field will be held at 1:45 p.m. next Saturday, Feb. 10, and the first game of the season will kick off at 2 p.m.
The new artificial turf fields improve drainage, a constant issue from inclement weather. It will provide student athletes more time on their home fields and increase more games at home and increase outdoor practice opportunities. The new turf also improves speed, bounce and line consistency.
“It was very special to be able to play on our new field. I know for us older guys who have been here for the past four years, this field had a lot of meaning to us. We worked extremely hard on this field, with tarp pulls and different jobs on the field to have it ready to play,” Reed said. “I am most proud of the people I’ve met and the family atmosphere that we have created amongst us as a team over the past four years. I have met so many fellow teammates that I consider brothers and family.”