If you build it, they will come.
That's the hope of Ravenna native Bill Terry, who wanted a place for his team to play fast-pitch softball. Terry worked out a deal with the Ravenna School District to use the abandoned ball diamond at the former Tappan Elementary School. The Bandits will consider the practice field and home base as they play games throughout Ohio and beyond.
Dennis Honkala, superintendent of the district, said Ravenna agreed to waive rental fees for Terry's group in exchange for upgrades to the ball field. Terry, with help from the Ravenna Hot Stove league, had 90 tons of dirt trucked in to the infield, and had the dirt spread last week.
"It will be a woman's or girl's paradise by the time we're done with it," Terry said.
The fence now bears a banner for the Bandits and retains the blue benches that were in place when Tappan students played there.
"The janitor calls it Raven blue," Terry said. "I said, 'No, it's Bandit blue.'"
Honkala said he got a call from Terry explaining that like many teams, the Bandits were scrambling for practice space. He offered Tappan's field for temporary use. Ravenna retains ownership of the school and its grounds.
Tappan closed to Ravenna students in the spring and is now being leased by Education Alternatives, an alternative school for at-risk youth.
"It's a beautiful green space," Honkala said of the field. "I hate to see it not used."
Honkala said he also has been approached by other groups interested in leasing the school gym at night. Education Alternatives operates only during the day.
The Bandits consist of two teams of 12, one for girls 14 and under and another for girls 12 and under.
Terry, a Ravenna High School graduate who remembers playing baseball during his school days, said he began to research fast-pitch softball as soon as he learned that his daughter was on the way. From Emma Terry's earliest moments, he said, he's been encouraging her to play softball.
"She was 1 year old and learning to catch balls, and running bases while she was learning to walk," he said. Emma, now 10, plays left field for the Bandits.
Though Emma Terry is naturally right-handed, he has encouraged her to throw left-handed to increase her value as a player.
Emma's long term goal? To play softball for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
"That's where travel softball takes you," her dad said. "Travel ball is going to take you to college."
During tournaments, he notes, there are always 50 to 100 college scouts in the stands, and though his girls are all too young to be talked to, he said the scouts are still watching.
He hopes that with a permanent place to practice, the team will grow and attract more Portage County residents.
Terry said his dad, John, also was a Ravenna High School baseball player, and coached slow-pitch girls softball.
"I think its time for Ravennans to take pride in our daughters and what they want to do on the softball field as well as our sons," he said. "Hot Stove does a great job of working with the boys. Somebody's got to step in and pick up for the girls. Girls can play ball just as well as some of these boys can."
Terry, who now lives in Stow, hopes to move back to Ravenna some day.
"I love Ravenna," he said. "Everything you need is here."
For information on the Bandits, call 330-861-9950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Facebook: Diane Smith, Record-Courier