And through the efforts and help of dozens of people, a new venue for children to call home on the baseball diamond and football field is a reality.
Norwalk Area Contractors Park played host to the first official high school baseball and softball games on Wednesday when St. Paul entertained Plymouth in Firelands Conference action.
The venue also includes a football field, which was used in the fall by the Norwalk Buckeyes grade school program, as well as the St. Paul junior high football team.
Located at 190 Akron Rd. (Ohio 18) just off E. Main St. in Norwalk — not far from Whitney Field, the facility was in the works for a long time. In less than three years, 10 acres of mostly wooded land has become three playing fields for area youth to play team sports.
“About eight years ago I was involved in the Norwalk Legends and Coasters travel baseball teams,” said Derek Dilger, the president of Norwalk Area Friends of Youth Sports. “And we never had a place to call our own. It was a project in the works prior to me, and a group of us started asking around and one thing led to another — and here we are.”
After years of playing at Baines Park, owned and operated by the city of Norwalk Park and Recreation Department, and the Lefty Grove Baseball League field at the VFW on Milan Ave. — players and coaches alike from St. Paul were excited to get on the diamonds Wednesday.
“I’ve been here 28 years, and we now finally have a place of our own,” St. Paul coach Jim Carper said. “It took a lot of effort and financial support from a great deal of people in the community. I have to give credit to Derek, who really spearheaded the whole thing.
The Flyers got a much-needed win on the baseball diamond with a 6-5 victory over the Big Red.
“It’s definitely a monumental win,” said starting pitcher Gavin Starcher. “We haven’t had our home field all season, and it’s really nice to have. To put a win on it in our senior year, maybe it will be a lucky field for us. We will see.”
Added St. Paul softball coach Bob Wilhelm, “There were so many people that helped out on this project, and we’re just thrilled to be here because it’s such a beautiful facility. We thank all the contractors that have donated time and money to make this come to fruition. I know the girls are excited, and we want them to be able to take ownership of this field, and the baseball boys as well. We’re looking forward to many years of playing here.”
Huron County has always had a strong background in construction, and Dilger said it was easy decision to pay homage to the local contractors.
“There are a lot of good, blue collar workers in this town,” he said. “And they have helped both financially and physically. Their knowledge and experience helped build this place.
“Numerous contractors, many of who are in competition with each other, have jumped in and helped,” Dilger added. “That has made this pretty special, to see how they all helped contribute to the park.”
Almost every phase of the park isn’t 100 percent done, according to Dilger. The last two winters caused several setbacks and initially, the facility isn’t quite as ready as anyone hoped.
Dilger noted the dugouts were made with split-face blocks, and there is a large fieldhouse for storage. There is also a loft area looking over both the baseball and softball fields that can be used as a press box.
“That’s probably the centerpiece of everything,” Dilger said.
On top of the St. Paul baseball and softball teams, Contractors Park is available for travel teams to use throughout the spring, summer and fall.
“We just require they help with the maintenance of the field,” Dilger said. “That’s it. We just want to provide a place for kids to play.”
One thing that has stood out about the project was the amount of free labor and donations made to construct the facility.
“Most of the people involved would rather stay anonymous, but there are just so many people to thank,” Dilger said. “We will pay tribute and recognize them in time. There were several large personal contributions as well, but right now the goal was to get it built and opened for these kids — then we’ll slowly add to it with things like that.”
Dilger also noted there was a moment in the fall when he was mowing the grass at the facility. It served as a reminder during any frustration or challenges along the way.
“There were kids practicing football in full pads that were barely taller than my kneecaps,” he said. “And that’s why we did this. It’s all been done for the kids. There’s not a soul that’s worked on this project here that wants notoriety. We just want a place to watch our kids grow up here in Norwalk and Huron County. The hope for us is the people in the surrounding communities appreciate what has been done for the kids.”