This fall, William Monroe High School athletic facilities stand empty with the postponement of fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten years ago, and after two years of talks, the county began a major facilities overhaul.
Current William Monroe High School principal and then-athletic director, Katie Brunelle, remembers long school board and board of supervisor meetings, as community members pleaded with the county to improve the athletic facilities.
A decade later, Brunelle looks back with pride on the accomplishments of that year.
“The first meeting when it came up, there was so much public comment that people couldn’t get in to the meeting room,” Brunelle said. “People came out in droves and supported the idea, spoke positively. Some spoke that it was too much money to spend on athletics, but included in that was also renovations to the PAC (Performing Arts Center); it also included the gym floor. So, it was more than just moving dirt outside.”
The $5.3 million project was heavily debated at school board and Greene County Board of Supervisors meetings beginning in summer 2010. The schools continue to pay $250,000 per year for the loan.
“The cost of the project in its entirety is out of reach,” then-Board of Supervisors Vice-chairman Buggs Peyton said at a meeting July 13.
“Everybody recognized the need for the track to be upgraded,” then-Midway Supervisor Jim Frydl said at a workshop between school board members and supervisors on Sept. 14, 2010.
Frydl went on to explain that in order to do the work on the track, the majority of the football field would have to be dug up. Additionally, making changes to the softball field (which was irregular and not of correct proportions) would force changes to the baseball field, neither of which were regulation.
The concrete seats in the stadium, which were installed according to code in 1969, would also be out of code if any changes were made.
The project was approved July 22, 2010, but debates over the loan and funding continued through spring of 2012, when the project was almost complete.
The scope of the total project would come to include: a new floor for the WMHS gymnasium; a refurbished stage floor, new curtains and refurbished theater seats for the PAC; new regulation six-lane synthetic track; resurfaced competition field with stormwater controls; accessible, aluminum home bleachers to seat 1,200 and away grandstands seating for 600; new press box with bathrooms; dedicated fall and spring concession stands; redesigned and accessible public restrooms; score booths and clocks for baseball and softball scorers; lights for baseball and softball fields; practice fields for students; and site improvements that included accessible paths, home and away ticket booths, site lighting, security lighting and security technology.
“This is going to be one of the premier facilities in the area,” Greene School Superintendent Dr. David C. Jeck said during a tour of the new facilities in February 2012, ahead of the first scheduled games on the new fields.
The official ground breaking was March 3, 2011.
Once the funding for the project was finally approved, the 2011-2012 school year was largely taken up with construction. In her office at the high school, Brunelle has a shovel used in the groundbreaking mounted on the wall and a signed softball and baseball in a commemorative glass case on a shelf from the “first games under the lights,” March 8, 2012. Prior to the renovation, none of the fields had electric lights.
“They did play football that fall, but the track project wasn’t complete,” Brunelle said. “We had to play all of our spring sports away from here, so we played baseball games and softball games—and soccer, for that matter—at Orange County High School. They were generous enough to allow us to do that. And at that time, we didn’t host home track meets because we didn’t have a qualifying track.”
At the end of the fall 2011 football season, construction teams finally broke ground on the field projects. After a very snowy winter and an incredibly rainy spring, the baseball and softball fields were completed and ready for play in early March 2012.
“In the springtime we played for a state championship on our new field,” Brunelle said. “This is the first time we ever played baseball and softball under the lights. Our soccer teams played in the stadium on a flat field for the first time … and it’s the first time that we had a qualifying track, ever.”
The WMHS baseball team ended a great season in June 2012 by winning the state championship title in a close win against Chilhowie on June 9. Seniors Jordan Gentry and Keegan Woolford made noteworthy plays throughout the season and in the winning game for Bull Run District Coach of the Year Mike Maynard.
On May 29, 2012, Brunelle was honored as GCPS Support Staff Educator of the Year. The award stated, “Brunelle, Greene County Schools’ athletic director, is continuously creating ways to make the atmosphere and fan experience at sporting events even better. She was able to make the tunnel for football and the fire-breathing dragon to add more excitement to an already electric environment. Brunelle has also been instrumental in the facilities project. Her job is critical in keeping the extracurricular programs not only running, but thriving.”
Brunelle herself played softball at WMHS in the 1980s and recalls how much the experience has changed since then, both for athletes and fans.
“I think the overall experience when you attend an athletic contest here is so much better than it was in years past,” she said. “When I played here back in the 80s, we played baseball and softball—the beginning of that era—on the same field. You just put the bases closer to home plate. In 40 years we went from a metal concession stand shack and a grill to a beautiful facility for concessions. The fan experience has definitely improved.”
Looking back, Brunelle thinks the new facilities have held up even better than expected.
“I think we have as good of outdoor facilities as anybody in Central Virginia,” she said. “We have one of the few remaining natural grass surfaces on a football field—most people have gone to turf—but it was well done and it’s held the test of time. I think it gave our students that participate in track and field an opportunity they hadn’t had before because they’re definitely playing on a top-notch surface.”
Despite the rescheduling of sports to spring for this fall season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Brunelle takes pride in how the school track has become an activity center for the community and looks forward to the modified school sports season scheduled to begin in February 2021.
“I think it goes past athletics and students; I think it goes to our community. You can come up here at any time and see half a dozen people on the track,” she said. “It has always been about the community; the community asked for it; came out and supported it; and now they get to reap the benefits of it.”
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