WATSON – When school officials decided on a vision for an on-campus complex at Live Oak High School to house the school’s baseball and softball programs, they swung for the fences.
After a ceremony Wednesday at the proposed site adjacent to the football field, it’s clear to everyone present they hit a home run.
“Just the whole facility,” said Live Oak first-year baseball coach Jesse Cassard. “I just hadn’t seen one like this. I’ve been from Texas to Florida and North Carolina for Team USA. You put it all together and there’s nothing like it. If there’s something in America that’s better than this for high school students, I’d like to see it.”
Cassard, along with Live Oak softball coach Michelle Morris, joined a host of dignitaries ranging from John Blount, general contractor for the project, to Livingston Parish Schools Superintendent Rick Wentzel, school board member Kellee Hennessy-Dickerson, who represents the Live Oak school district, and Live Oak principal Beth Jones.
A total of 19 people took part in the ceremonial turning of the first shovel of dirt – gold-plated for the occasion – to represent the start of the $6.8 million project that has a one-year timeline, weather permitting, for completion.
“We’re very proud we’re building a field that when others walk up they’re going to be in awe,” Morris said.
Morris, a 1990 graduate of Live Oak, was a former softball player when the Lady Eagles played at Live Oak Ballpark, the team’s current home, with grass infields, wooden dugouts, one set of bleachers and no paved parking.
It’s since been transformed to a more comfortable setting for the highly-successful softball program.
“It’s gratifying because I’ve experienced where we were out there picking up our own rocks,” said Morris, who enters her 24th season as softball coach. “Our families came out to cut the grass. Now we’re going to have a facility where the elements won’t be as harsh on us.”
When the project is finished, the baseball and softball programs will have complete artificially-turfed fields, covered grandstands, coaches offices, team locker rooms, an indoor hitting facility, press boxes and lights.
“Our kids have shown us they can do so much with less,” Hennessy-Dickerson said. “Now you’re going to have more.”’
Said Cassard, who previously directed Zachary to four state championships: “For a baseball coach, I’ve hit the lottery. This is an awesome place and I love it and have only been here for a couple of months. The people here are great.”
Junior softball player Sophia Foster said she likes the thought of having an on-campus facility after the logistical hurdles of playing at the Live Oak Ball Park.
“It’s going to be very exciting, it’s going to be all new and going to be better,” Foster said. “We’ll no longer have to get dressed at school, get in a car and get to the field. We’ll be more together.”
Cassard said the prospect of a new facility was one of the key selling points in taking over for former coach Greg Briggs, whom he credited for his work on the plans of the baseball facility.
“(Live Oak athletic director) Coach (Brett) Beard showed the plans to me when we talked about the job,” Cassard said. “When I saw the plans, I said I’m in. Just tell me what I’ve got to do.”
Morris said the upgrade in both facilities will be on par with that of Live Oak’s football field, track, fieldhouse and gymnasium, which debuted with the opening of the new school six years ago.
After years of waiting and hearing about the possibility of a new on-campus facility, Morris was eager for Wednesday’s official announcement.
“I had a hard time sleeping,” she said. “When dirt is going to move, there’s a photo being taken, there’s proof it’s going to happen.”
Aside from the bricks and mortar, both facilities will feature high-level technology that will serve as a valuable teaching tool as coaches will be able to film practice, study their hitters and pitchers and evaluate it all from the comfort of their respective offices.
“I feel like my 3-year-old at Christmas,” Cassard said “I’m just ready to see the progress. It’s going to be cool watching it being built and being able to tell the story to the kids coming up in 10 years. This was just green grass and the people before me had the vision to lay it out.”