During the spring of 1985, fans of the Gainesville High baseball team routinely backed up their trucks onto the side of Elephant Trail, sat on the tailgates and settled in to watch Deuce Roark and his teammates play one final season on the campus field.
By the summer, the team had moved its operations to the new Ivey Watson Field at Lanier Point. The campus field has not hosted a high school game since then.
Nearly 30 years later, the Gainesville softball team and its fans will start making their own memories at the long-dormant field.
First-year coach Roger Parham was at the forefront of the effort to create an on-campus home for the Lady Red Elephants, who previously played their home games at Lanier Point Park.
“It was on my three-year plan to get them on this field,” Parham said as he sat in the dugout Wednesday, surveying the new infield mix. “We’ve got that done in about two and a half months.”
Parham will coach Gainesville’s first game at the newly-renovated field today against West Hall. First pitch is scheduled for 5:55 p.m and admission is free.
More than 100 tons of infield mix, 10,000 square feet of sod, 350 feet of outfield fencing and 70 feet of fence for the backstop have transformed what used to be a field used for recreation events into a competitive site for the Lady Red Elephants.
Roark, who played his freshman year at the field before the baseball program made the switch to Ivey Watson, said that playing on campus felt like home.
“That’s all we knew, that’s all we had,” said Roark, who is now the athletic director at Lakeview Academy. “It was a small little field. Basically 300 feet all the way around, which made it very interesting to be a pitcher.”
The field dimensions are even smaller now, complete with a new fence that stands 210 feet from home plate in straightaway center field.
There are more updates coming, according to athletic fields manager David Presnell. Field and turf contractors have been working since May to get the field ready for competitive play, which included revamped lighting fixtures and dugout benches, which were built by Gainesville High students during a summer program.
The hope is to also invest in a new scoreboard, as well as to replace the dugout roofs, which are originally from the 1980s.
“We have goals for a long-term renovation,” Presnell said. “It’s very exciting and the kids absolutely love it. They want to play here on campus and this gives them a feeling that this is their home.”
Gainesville went into Wednesday’s game at Central Gwinnett 3-1 on the season following games against Johnson, East Hall and Towns County.
Parham said he’s looking forward to celebrating “a little bit of the new and the old” as his Lady Red Elephants take the field for the first home game.
If the community and school body make the short trip out to see Gainesville play, the investment will all have been worth it, Parham said.
“There’s excitement going on in Gainesville softball now,” he said. “Now, with the girls, with much given, much is expected. I want to make sure these freshman girls get the chance to experience the postseason by the time they leave.”