'It's beautiful to get to play on this field': Flinthills High breaks in new softball, baseball fields

Lionel Tipton

ROSALIA, Kansas–It is often said of small towns, “If you blink, you’ll miss it.”

That just became much more difficult in this unincorporated east-central Butler County town, which in 2010 reported a population of less than 200 people.

Motorists traveling east into Rosalia on U.S. 54 have their gaze drawn to a two-ballpark complex on the north side of the road, adjacent to Flinthills High School

The parks were constructed as part of a bond issue that was approved by voters in the district. More than 70 percent voted in favor of the bond issue, athletic director Daniel Scribner said. This is significant in that bond issues in neighboring districts were voted down, he said.

“That says a lot for our district,” Scribner said, “how they value the school and education.”

The school christened its ballfields Tuesday, with the Mustangs’ baseball and softball teams staging games together at the new sites for the very first time. To do this, Flinthills reached back into its past for both sports.

The Mustangs’ longest-tenured baseball coach, Rick Cox, returned, as did Jan Farrar, their first softball coach. When current coach Kent Harms, then an assistant to Farrar, took over in 1997, Farrar became his first-base coach, keeping her scorebook in hand and not missing a play.

The bond project was crucial to getting the stadiums, USD 492 Superintendent Jeremy Boldra said. 

More:Jaguar baseball splits with Derby

“We were able to roll over from one bond into another, and that’s the way we were able to not raise people’s taxes,” he said. 

The setup of the fields also was considered and was something residents made a priority, Boldra said. 

The Flinthills baseball team opened their new baseball fields on Monday night

“Having both fields put together, rather than having them separated,” he said. “Have one concession stand area, one set of bathrooms to manage during games.”

However it wasn’t as easy as merely laying down turf, Boldra said. 

“Once we had that (designing the fields) and figured all that out,” he said, “once we had that in, then we had to figure out what we were going to do around it all to make the common areas come together. That’s been fun, at least on my side of it.” 

It represents a major upgrade for the respective teams, Harms said.

“You know, it’s come a long way,” said Harms, who will retire from Flinthills at the end of this school year. “I remember when we first started softball, when I first began as a head coach, we’d have a bench – one little bench on (the visitors’) side and our side. That was all we had. We had no dugouts, just a diamond; we didn’t have any fences.

More:Andover Trojan softball stays perfect with sweep against Ark City Bulldogs

“We’ve come a long way, and the bonds really helped make a nice facility.”

Nice enough to possibly rethink retirement?

“I’d already made my mind up pretty much,” Harms said. “I may do some coaching, but I’m giving it all up for right now.  (The new field) would certainly make you think about it, anyway.”

Flinthills ballparks boast innovative lighting system

Sure, the fields have aluminum bleachers, chain-link fences, dugouts with protective fencing, all things one might expect in any normal ballpark.

But one feature that really makes the parks stand out are the innovative lighting system. Like normal stadium lights, they are perched high on stands. But that is where the similarity ends. The lights on top are angled down to face the ground. This prevents balls from getting lost in the lights at nighttime.

The lights also allowed the Mustangs to have something previous generations of Flinthills ballplayers didn’t have – night games.

“Ever since these programs started, we have not had lights on the fields,” Scribner said. “So, we were always having to scheduled games earlier in the day, kids getting out of school earlier.

More:Barton women's basketball upsets two-seed Butler in regional semifinals

“And so, the financial commitment of the school board and the patrons of the district to really making this a first-class facility was really a big deal.”

About halfway up each light stand is another light fixture, this one pointing toward the top of the pole, providing better illumination of popups at night, Scribner said.

“It’s better for the crowd and the players,” he said. 

This style of lighting is a recent innovation, Scribner said. 

The brand new Flinthills High softball field

“I think it’s a great feature,” he said. “You can see how lighting the top of the ball doesn’t do you any good. You need to see the ball.”

The lights also draw attention at night, adding a luster to the fields.

“It’s nice to have the LED, which is pointed at and just focuses on the area of the field, so it doesn’t shine and bother people who are living in town,” Boldra said.

Better sightlines were also designed in, Scribner said. 

“I will say one of the things that I really like about the fields is that you sit above both fields, so you are able to watch both fields at the same time comfortably,” he said. 

More:Strong finish propels Gary Woodland into Masters weekend on roll

It also decreased the expense, Boldra said.

“It was a lot more economical to take some of it and move it around, rather than bring in a lot of dirt to bring it up to a higher grade,” he said.

'The facility is something we're very proud of'

It is hoped that the parks will serve as a landmark for Rosalia, Scribner said.

“When you turn into the town, it’s the first thing you see,” he said. “Our whole community has really started to show their pride in the last 3-4 years. A couple of years ago, we had a big community service project to clean up the corner (U.S. 54 and Rosalia Road) as you come into town, and it just helped the eye appeal right away.”

“And now, we’ve got the ball diamonds in. The community has taken a lot of pride, not just in appearance, but functionality and programs we can offer.”

More:Revived ban on transgender athletes in women's sports sent to Gov. Laura Kelly after tense debate

Boldra views it as a source of pride.

“The facility is something that we’re very proud of,” he said. “I think the community had a nice vision. We just executed it, and it’s something that they’re proud of. I think that it will rival any other baseball-softball complex at any (Class) 1A-2A school in the state.

'It's beautiful to play on this field'

Even though Flinthills split the doubleheaders Tuesday with Sedan, the Mustangs were successful in the opening games on each field.

In addition to the ceremonies before the games, once play started came the fireworks – not the gunpowder kind, but more heroic ones.

Early in the boys game, Flinthills junior Jackson Houseman homered to left-center, eliciting a roar that perked up ears at the neighboring softball field. 

“It felt awesome,” Houseman said. “My goal was to get one on this new field.”

The new field makes it a landmark time for Flinthills, he said. 

“We’ve taken a big step just in getting better and getting more experience,” Houseman said. 

With the Mustangs trailing 9-8 in the ninth, Houseman struck again for the game-winning hit in a 10-9 walkoff victory.

Not long after, softball senior Kylee Weis launched a deep fly ball, also to left-center, for a grand slam that effectively ramped up Flinthills’ scoring, and the Mustangs run-ruled Sedan, 17-7, in six innings. 

“When I found out we were getting a new field, I was so excited, because everybody knows I’m a softball girl,” said Weis, who will sign a softball letter of intent for Peru (Neb.) this week. “I really like the field, the money they put into it, because not a lot of softball girls get the credit out here.”

With great facilities comes great responsibilities, and following the doubleheaders, both teams were working on field maintenance afterward.

“The kids have bought into taking care of what you have, because what we have is so much nicer than what we’ve had in the past,” Mustangs baseball coach Erik Sorum said, who added he has received compliments on the field already. “We’ve got something to be proud of, and we’re trying to instill that in our kids.

“It’s beautiful to get to play on this field. We’ve done a lot of watering and a lot of work on it.”