I am writing in response to a letter to the editor in the Nov. 23 edition entitled, “School Committee member: Here’s why alternate fields plan doesn’t work.”
Let me be clear, the current layout and condition of the athletic fields at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School was poor in 1974 when I graduated, and 44 years have not done the fields any favors. We recently completed an addition and renovation of the school which actually won an architectural award. We now seek to have our fields plan, meet, to our best guess, the needs of athletics for the next 50 years. I don’t know what the most popular field sports will be in the next 50 years, but I can guarantee they will be played on a rectangular field. Our problem is that we do not have a lot of space to work with, and the baseball field occupies a large swath of prime real estate. In 1964 when it was built, that made sense.
Baseball and softball participation across the country is in a steep 30-year decline. Just this year we could not complete a JV baseball schedule without bringing in eighth-graders to fill a lineup card. I played softball for 35 years. Baseball and softball are my favorite sports to watch and I was the Babe Ruth coach for many current members of the varsity baseball team. We currently have a co-op lacrosse team with Bromfield Academy. I can see the day when we will have our own lacrosse team and a co-op baseball team with Bromfield.
My experience as a coach in dealing with either the Ayer Parks Department or Shirley Youth Baseball has been nothing but positive, and I am sure that if asked, accommodation is certain.
I did walk the fields and pace off the alternate field location. It’s really quite simple. That and Google Maps can get you pretty far. As Bob Dylan says “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Additionally, working for Bruce MacDonald, postmaster and head of Shirley Recreation in 1978, I built the current Burton D. Coffman baseball diamond in Shirley.
Aside from the baseball and softball implications, the most serious design defect in the proposal is that it has the voters, patrons, fans, parents who are paying for this project looking directly toward the setting sun for all afternoon soccer, lacrosse and track events. Field orientation and spectator sight lines matter. They matter a great deal. No one should have to spend $7.1 million to stare into the sun causing damage to their retinas.
This whole endeavor has been a political football for the past year. Mercifully it will be decided on Dec. 11 with a ballot. Should it fail I will advocate for a new, less expensive, more coherent fields configuration to be ready for consideration in both towns at February special Town Meetings.
(The author is a member of the Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee.)