Wednesday morning, with a look outside and a quick glance at the weather forecast, Marlboro County High baseball coach Phillip Blue knew that afternoon practice was in jeopardy.
“We ended up getting some work done in the gym, but the most important aspect from an offensive standpoint is batting practice, which we couldn't do. Because of the weather, we are a day behind,” said Blue.
He has hopes, that in the future, a little rain won’t set his team back in preparation for the season.
What might change this, possibly as soon as next season, is a covered batting cage. Basically, it is just a 32'x 80' roof over the existing batting area, which is down the third base line, behind the Bulldogs’ dugout.
“It would be huge for our program and for our softball program. Three of the four other schools in our new region already have covered batting cages. Lakewood, Crestwood and Hartsville in our old region have them, so to keep pace with our top competition, it would be a great asset,” said Blue.
Blue first began investigating the possibility almost two years ago. After talking to several other coaches, he was confident that he could get the building constructed for under $20,000. He began fund raising with that number in mind.
Tragically, in November of 2015, one of the Bulldogs' most promising young players died in a four-wheeler accident. William Rogers had been a standout for the junior varsity team and played some on the varsity as just an eighth grader. He was looking forward to being a varsity regular as a freshman.
“William was such a fantastic young guy. He never missed a workout or any chance to improve as a ballplayer. He was an excellent student and just a good all-around young man,” said Blue. “His loss hit the whole community but really impacted our baseball players.”
The idea of naming the covered batting facility for Rogers was put forward and Blue embraced it quickly as a way of keeping the memory of the young player alive for the Bulldogs for years to come.
Several large donations came in as memorials. After a fund raiser pushed the account set aside for the project to over $20,000, the coach thought construction was ready to begin. However, hurdle after hurdle has gotten in the way.
“I figured that the structure would fall under the state codes for school construction. That proved to be the case, which, of course, drives the price up substantially,” said Marlboro County athletic director Dean Boyd. “We started dipping further into the booster club funds and other athletic accounts and got the total up to $35,000.”
The state standards have to be followed to cover the school for safety and liability reasons. Boyd knows that some schools do not go by the codes, saving great initial expense, but that is a risk that he isn't willing to take.
"I know of numerous instances where the state forced schools to tear down structures that were erected outside of the codes. In those cases, the schools lost any investment they had made," said Boyd.
"If I was to build a covered batting cage at my back yard, I'm sure it could be done for under $20,000 but I would be assuming that liability. Schools can't afford to do that," he said.
After getting bids from approved builders, the athletic department found that they still have considerable fund raising to do. The lowest bid was $59,000.
"There was some sticker-shock when we got the final price. Still, this is something that our kids need to be competitive in softball and baseball and we are committed to finding the money," said Boyd.
Blue and Boyd are looking for donations to help get construction started, hopefully by this summer.
"Any amount that someone might could give would be greatly appreciated. It will be helping our athletes for years to come and honoring the memory of one who was very special to this community," said Boyd.
To make a donation, mail a check to: William Rogers Batting Facility, c/o Marlboro County High Athletic Department, 951 Fayetteville Avenue, Bennettsville, SC 29512.
For any questions or to learn more about the project, call coach Boyd at 843-535-1053.