Home field disadvantage: Teams continue to struggle for space

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Brandon Kleber

photo 4Senior baseball captain Luke Leonard piles his team onto a school bus each afternoon after school and drives for 30 minutes, just to get to practice: not at all what he expected from his high school baseball career.

As Grady’s spring sports programs (soccer, lacrosse, baseball, tennis, track and field and ultimate Frisbee) continue to grow, the field space around Grady becomes more and more crowded. With three teams already sharing the one functional field, others sports are forced to pay thousands of dollars per year to get access to city fields, such as Central Park in the Old Fourth Ward, inconvenient considering Piedmont Park is 100 steps away.

“The lack of field [space] definitely holds us back,” Leonard said of the baseball team. “I wouldn’t say it has negatively impacted our team, though, because we have learned to work with what we have and that is what makes us a stronger and more stable team.”

For years now, many frustrated coaches and parents have been aware of the issue of minimal field space but have taken little action. Earlier this school year, however, in a meeting between the City of Atlanta and APS, Grady parent Nancy Habif finally decided to speak up on the issue.

“I’ve seen City of Atlanta and APS partner for pool space,” Habif said. “So I just figured the two entities could design a similar partnership for field space.”

Grady is the only high school in APS that does not have an extra practice field or an on-campus baseball or softball field. The APS athletics department has been working for years to find Grady available field space and recognizes the need to develop a partnership with the City of Atlanta to use parks at little to no cost.

“We are very sympathetic to the field space needs of Grady High School athletics,” Jeff Beggs, APS athletic director, said. “The Department of Athletics continues to hold discussions and meetings with all parties involved to try to find solutions.”

George Dusenbery, Commissioner for City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation, agrees that there are simply not enough fields to meet the demands of APS athletic programs.

“I really would like to see a comprehensive partnership between [the Department of Parks and Recreation] and APS where we ultimately co-manage facilities,” Dusenbery said.

Baseball plays a whole other ball game to find space to practice. The team practices and plays its home games at Crim High School, since Grady’s baseball facilities consists of only a rusted-out batting cage in a parking lot. Unlike ultimate Frisbee, the team is not forced to pay to use Crim’s facilities. When it rains, the team goes to Perkerson Elementary, where Coach Mark Davidson holds practices in the gym. Occasionally, the team will pay for batting cages at D-Bat Baseball Academy, seven miles away.

“It becomes very challenging and frustrating, but we don’t make excuses,” Davidson said.

In hopes of relieving some of the spatial issues at Grady, APS has had multiple discussions with the Piedmont Park Conservancy to advocate for space for Grady soccer, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee.

“It is a shame to have all of that available field space right across the street unused by any of Grady’s teams,” Beggs said.

Ultimate Frisbee coach Susie Mercer hopes that a field partnership can be created for Grady ultimate.

“With success, of course, comes growth,” Mercer wrote in an email to city officials. “With growth, comes the need for more field space, field space that APS simply doesn’t have at this time. We feel blessed to have the Central [Park] fields so close by, but we are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the amount of field space that we actually now need.”

The APS athletics program wants to offer equal practice space for all GHSA sanctioned sports. Unfortunately, there are limitations that Grady faces, unlike other high schools, which the department is working to address.

“Our department will not give up in trying to find Grady High School athletics additional and available field space,” Beggs said.