Elmira — When you pull into the parking lot next to the softball field at Elmira High School, a sign that is a throwback to their glory days hangs on the hitting facility near right field: 1992, 1993, 2003, 2004, 2006 State Champions. At one point in time, this sleepy town west of Eugene was once a respected name in Oregon softball, capturing three titles in four years in the mid-2000s and a pair in the early 1990s. Now in 2022, the program is all but a shell of the glory that they used to know, along with the community support that used to boost their program confidence and their increasingly deteriorating facilities. Any community support now lies with the baseball and football programs, two teams that have zero combined state titles or state championship appearances, unlike the five-time state champion softball program that has been left for dead by their community.
While it isn’t the fancy layout that I see at some schools, the baseball team has a press box stationed behind the first base line along with a trailer that the Elmira Booster Club uses to sell merchandise during games. They also feature a newer scoreboard in right field with a PA system to use for their games, all sandwiched in between their concrete dugouts that provide plenty of depth and room for players to move around in. Let’s not forget to mention: The team has stadium lights that surround a permanent outfield fence covered with support from businesses in the community. They have a larger hitting facility than softball, which is also located outside right field, along with two constructed bullpens to warmup in that are enclosed from the playing surface. Finally, the teams have access to running water on the field. While it isn’t Great American Ballpark, it is a quality facility for a 4A school and serves the needs of their athletes pretty well.
Across the land direct from baseball is softball, a field that is a far cry from the quality of their male counterparts. No press box, concessions/merchandise trailer, or PA system, just a section of bleacher seats directly behind the plate with a small bench for the scoreboard and scorekeeper. The team is placed in wood dugouts, one of which is deteriorating and in poor shape, while the other was recently hand painted by a team parent to deal with its faded colors. The home dugout serves as partial storage for the team, while the rest is secured inside their facility next to the field. The tarp that the team uses has rips in the areas around third base and shortstop, allowing water to leak on the field and causing problems. They don’t have access to running water, having an open bullpen behind the home dugout, and temporary outfield fencing. Their hitting facility is smaller to the point where storage is just enough space, but a team of 16 girls have no room to change for practice or games. Additionally, their foul poles are made of pipes and have a scoreboard that looks like it is from the early 2000s or late 1990s, one that constantly needs maintenance from bulbs going out on it.
When you compare the fields, it is clear which one has the love and support of the community, and which one is ignored and left for dead by that same community of people. Players transfer to private schools in Eugene or nearby Willamette High School instead of staying at Elmira, severely hindering the program and their ability to retain players. Additionally, their club teams playing at beautiful facilities such as Sheldon doesn’t aid in retaining them once they return to the shell of their former glory back in Elmira. A bond measure a few years ago that would’ve brought improvements to the facility failed, the last glimpse of hope that this aged, neglected program and facility had at a revival.
Where it stands now, the program is glued together with a group of girls that work their hardest to improve each time out. They make the best of the circumstances that they face: No support from the community and a non-communicative athletics leadership, who don’t respond to athletes at all or in a timely manner to questions they have. What the future holds isn’t known right now, but it truly is a heartbreaking state of affairs in Elmira, where the most successful athletics program is the most neglected one. In 2022, they stand as a shell of the glory that they once were, and hopefully can once again rekindle through awareness and accountability to their community, athletic department, and school district.
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