Nicole Price spoke with a sense of ownership as she stood in the dugout of the new softball field on the Overland High School campus on Aug. 30.
Along with the rest of the Overland girls softball team, Price was celebrating the official ribbon-cutting ceremony on the new field before the first pitch of the 'Blazers game against Sheridan High School. Price, a 16-year-old junior, said the difference between playing on a field at nearby Utah Park and a dedicated space on their own home campus made all the difference.
"I've gone all the way from the old varsity field to this one, and being able to have our own field now that's actually ours and actually for the school is really empowering," Price said. "It gives us a voice that we didn't have before."
Judging by the results of the game, the newly minted home turf also offered the athletes a degree of determination and grit. After school and district officials formally cut the ribbon on the field, the 'Blazers won a hard-fought victory in their first contest on the field, eking out a 10-9 win following a walkoff double by Gracey Martinez and aggressive base running by Brandie Smith.
The team's excitement was infectious, and represented the payoff of a process that involved students, teachers, coaches and administrators alike. Overland Athletic Director Ryan Knorr was quick to give credit to Cherry Creek School District Athletics and Activities Director Larry Bull, as well as Overland Principal Leon Lundie. What's more, district leadership members were on hand to show their support – Bull, Chief of Staff Chris Smith, Chief of Strategic Initiatives Brooke Gregory, Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer David Hart, CCSD Board of Education President Dave Willman, Director of Facility Operations Dave Henderson and other officials were on hand to celebrate the new space. Willman threw out the first ceremonial pitch.
The support stemmed from a shared commitment to giving the Overland team the proper degree of support and respect.
"It made more sense to find a way to put this field on our campus," Knorr said. "We want to show appreciation and value to our female athletes. At the end of the day, sending them across the street to Utah Park isn't the best way to do that. Giving them a home here is what they deserve."
'Blazers Coach Omar Garcia spoke briefly before the game to offer his own thoughts on the new field, speaking directly to the community that made it possible.
"I do have a game to coach, and I don't want to get emotional. I remember the day we sat down and talked about this. You had to pinch me because I thought I was dreaming," Garcia said, quickly shifting to a prepared list of people to thank and celebrate. He offered thanks to school and district officials, former student athletes, parents and community members.
That community came out in full force to support the new facility and the athletes that won the day. The newly completed bleachers were packed with 'Blazer fans sporting the school colors; they shouted messages of encouragement as the team secured a narrow lead.
The sense of home field advantage was impossible to miss, and it made a decisive difference for athletes like Price.
"Before, we weren't able to keep up our old field; we weren't allowed to water it or cut it ourselves," Price said. "Now, we have flat grass and a flat infield. It's well-kept, and it's nice, and it's ours.
"We get to keep it how we want it," she added, with an unmistakable note of pride in her voice.