Ray School opens new baseball field for students and community

Olympic Gold Medalist (softball 2004) Jennie Finch watches Lucas Ellis, a William H. Ray Elementary School 7th grader, practice his swing following ceremonies inaugurating Ray School’s refurbished baseball field. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its refurbished baseball field on Tuesday afternoon.

On Sept. 10, students, teachers, staff and parents of Ray School along with local politicians — Rep. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th). Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) — and representatives from Major League Baseball (MLB) and Scotts Company LLC (Scotts) came out to see the new field.

“We are incredibly excited,” said Principal Megan Thole during an interview. “Some of our parents had been looking to help us find a way to redo the field, (but) to be able to receive this grant is pretty amazing. Before that, while we had beautiful green space, it was not functional…To have this beautiful field now is incredibly exciting and it doesn’t benefit just the school but the community.”

In May, Friends of Ray School PTO received a $50,000-grant from Scotts and MLB to refurbish the baseball field that had been neglected because of budget cuts. Ray was one of four schools across the country to receive the grant. This year, the program had received 350 applications from 300 cities in 46 states.

When asked what she hopes students get from the new baseball field, Melanie LeGrande, vice president of social responsibility at MLB, said, “Most of all, I want them to be comfortable with our game. I want them to play our game and enjoy our game. I love, one thing in particular about this application, is the community feel to it; there is not a gate blocking [the field] off, people can walk past this, watch kids playing.

“You really have a sense of building and strengthening the community and allowing them to come here to be a part of the baseball experience.”

Jennie Finch, MLB Youth Softball Ambassador, who selected each of the four grant recipients was at the press conference to give encouraging words to students.

“I’m honored to celebrate this amazing, beautiful field with you guys,” Finch said. “Hopefully many dreams are started here and sparked right here on this field. It’s way more than just a game; it’s the life lessons and we all know that our communities are better off when kids are outside being active. Yes, physically, but mentally and emotionally as well and statistics back it up. When kids are involved in sports good things happen; self-esteem is higher, grade point averages are higher and that’s what it is all about.”