Many had to dig deep for new dugouts at Thomas Dale

Many times it takes the determination of one very special person to fill a need.  It is also a very special community to come together and stand with that person and accomplish the goal.   

It was about four years ago when Thomas Dale Alumnus, Keith Togna, was sitting watching a rain delayed Thomas Dale High School JV baseball game.  It was about 45 degrees, windy and the rain was pouring down.  The players sat in their “dugout” which was little more than a fenced space with a bench which had no roof or any protection from the elements.  They were miserable and they and their equipment were getting soaked.  Keith saw their plight and decided right then to try to to do something about it.  

Over the  next year and a half Keith learned a lot about how to get a dugout built.  First he learned that the local government would not pay for dugouts.  Any dugouts that were at the other local schools had been built with private donor money and effort.  Keith also quickly discovered that if he wanted to build dugouts for the boy’s baseball field he had to do so also for the girl’s softball team as this fell under the Equal Opportunity in Education Act also know as Title IX.  So now instead of two dugouts he had to raise funds to build four.  It would take a lot of fund-raising but first it had to be determined how much money was actually needed.  Luckily a local engineering firm, Austin Brockenbrough & Associates, agreed to provide an estimate, design and construction drawing at no cost.  Unfortunately their estimate came to $50,000.  Keith knew then he would need a lot of help to get that kind of money.

Keith initially reached out to the Thomas Dale administration and it’s baseball coach to see what sort of fund-raising they could do.  He found out that by school policy they could only do fund-raising for a specific purpose and they were limited to only two specific fund-raising activities per year.  Under those restrictions it would be a long time to raise the amount of money needed.  Regardless of this they decided to go ahead and try to raise the money while Keith would reach out to local businesses,  individuals and service organizations.

By the Spring of 2010 Keith had raised close to $4,000 for the project.  It was then that word reached the owner of Eaton General Contractor Inc, Kevin Eaton, about the project and he decided to help.  He looked over the designs and through the use of donated or reduced cost materials and labor he cut the estimate to $16,000.   It was a significant step forward but the project still needed $12,000 to even get started.

The next stop was County Board of Supervisors.  Keith had learned that each district had a discretionary fund under control of it’s Supervisor so Keith approached his Bermuda District Supervisor, Dorothy Jaeckle, about the project.  She visited the ball field and saw that this could be a true community effort.  She agreed to take the project before the Board and with her support the County agreed to provide the remaining funds needed.   It was the Fall of 2010 and construction could now begin.

However,  construction projects that rely on donated materials and labor do not happen quickly.  Most work was done on the weekends but that also resulted in it becoming even more of a community effort.   Many parents and the baseball coach helped out.  The Chesterfield County Technical Center used the dugouts as one of their carpentry projects and built roof beams for each dugout.  The project also battled the elements when Hurricane Irene blew the roof off one of the dugouts.  Vandals damaged another as well but the project went on with undiminished support from all involved.  

After nearly two years the dugouts are complete except for a few final touches which should be done by the time of the first home game on March 22nd.  Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle is scheduled to  throw out the ceremonial first pitch to commemorate the project completion.  

Keith Togna would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and resolve on this project.  Perhaps those in attendance at the first rain delayed game will remember that it took the determination of one man and willingness of his community to help that made sure our kids are now dry and comfortable in their dugout.

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