Taking stock of the athletic landscape of Parsons, one piece of infrastructure is noticeably lacking compared to other area communities: an indoor facility primarily for baseball and softball.
Both Parsons High School and Labette Community College lack true indoor facilities with turf that would mitigate climate issues that infringe on practice schedules.
Labette has plans for a new athletic facility to be built in the coming years that will include a section of turf to be utilized by the college’s baseball and softball teams. But that still leaves a void for the rest of the community.
“It’s been a vision of mine for the last six years to have some type of indoor facility for the high school and the community,” Parsons baseball coach Gerald Beardmore said. “If it’s a Parsons High School facility, you can put on winter camps and help keep kids’ arms in shape. There’s so many advantages to it for multiple sports.”
Administration at Parsons has started exploring the idea of adding an indoor facility to its existing infrastructure.
“We’re trying to do one as a school facility,” Parsons athletic director Rob Barcus said. “We’re looking at a couple buildings in town that may have worked. We’ve talked about getting one built as well, but funding is the big issue.”
This past spring, rain and inclement weather pelted the region. That affected the frequency at which baseball and softball teams — both at the high school and youth levels — could practice and have games.
At the high school, the only indoor options are the two gyms, which baseball and softball have to cede to basketball during the preseason.
“It was really tough with our practice schedule,” Parsons softball coach Caleb Reid said. “That early season was really tough. It was a juggling act with basketball and baseball.”
Barcus and others at Parsons have started researching the logistics of what, and where, a facility would look like.
One recent facility erected was in Frontenac, which Barcus visited and talked with Frontenac administration about.
“I just saw Frontenac’s as an observer,” Barcus said. “In the fall and winter, there’s really no place for our kids to hit. It strikes me as something that might be possible in the future for our school.”
Frontenac’s facility paid immediate dividends as its softball team won a state title this spring thanks in part to the availability of an indoor practice space.
“We used it daily whether it was raining or not raining,” Frontenac softball coach Cassie Rhuems said. “There are six cages we can utilize. So we wanted to be efficient with our offensive drills. It’s big enough that we can have our baseball and softball teams in there at the same time. And we didn’t have to go to the gym and pitch or do fielding drills if it did rain.”
The Frontenac facility is owned by the school district and managed by Rhuems and baseball coach Bill Sullivan. The two sell $25 annual passes to the community for access to the facility, while the school’s teams maintain first priority to access.
“It was a little bit of a headache at the beginning,” Rhuems said. “But we had a lot of people in the school help us. People in the community donated their time as well. But now it’s all about maintenance. The headache portion of it is over. The baseball coach and I work really well together.”
Beardmore said that model could be an ideal one for Parsons to follow.
“If we can piggyback off that, that’s a great idea,” Beardmore said.
While an indoor facility’s primary purpose would serve baseball and softball in the area, part of the allure to Barcus is that other sports would also have access.
“We could make a facility that would be more beneficial than going into the gym,” Barcus said. “I doubt we’d build a full-scale field in there. But it could benefit more sports other than just baseball and softball. Track could use it. Football could get in there as well.”
Rhuems said Frontenac’s facility will also be open to other sports in the school.
“If the football team needs to get in there and throw the ball around or go over some plays, our facility can have an open area of turf,” Rhuems said. “It can be used for other things as well.”
For USD 503 to take ownership of any facility, the school board would have to approve the effort before accepting any bids on construction.
Parsons Babe Ruth League president John Rexwinkle said he’s willing and able to help organize any fundraising efforts for the project.
“We don’t know how much we’d have to fundraise. We know people are getting hit up all the time for fundraising. There’s some creative things we can come up with,” Rexwinkle said. “But hopefully there’s people that find worth in Parsons athletics that see the benefit in this will think it’s worth donating towards.”
Based on discussions with Barcus and others in town Rexwinkle said costs for a facility would approach roughly $150,000, with $90,000 just for the infrastructure then another $60,000 for amenities, including netting and turf.
“We need to get everybody at the same table and develop a strategic plan to move forward. It’s not just about the financial backing, but figuring out all the logistics. You can’t go ask for money without a plan,” Rexwinkle said.
It’ll likely be several years before any facility is finally erected. Rhuems said it took a couple of years for a final plan to be put before a town hall meeting in November 2018, but the facility was erected and available for use by March.
“We had a vision and didn’t just jump right in,” Rhuems said. “We really researched what we wanted. We saw other facilities and got some pros and cons of the process. We didn’t just jump head first into it. We got the community involved as well. We wanted them to know we were doing this for the kids.”
While an indoor facility for Parsons has long been a dream, it seems that dream is gaining momentum to becoming a reality.
“There’s some things in place already that we can make it happen,” Beardmore said. “I believe we have a great community that wants to see its youth get better. There’s a long of younger parents coming up that are very active in this. They want to see it happen as well.”