In the past three years, local sports organizations “have exploded” with new athletes, said Kevin McIntire, president of Louisa Elite Football and Cheer.
“Unfortunately, there’s not many places to practice and no place to host tournaments,” he said. “It’s a shame.”
“A countywide sports complex should have been built years ago,” said Dino Goodman, president of Louisa Little League. “Other counties have them ... Louisa is one of the only ones that don’t.”
The issue emerged in recent months as the Louisa County Board of Supervisors debated whether to enclose one of the existing pools at the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center, or to build a new aquatics center on a nearby site.
A citizen committee appointed by the board recommended a new pool building that would cost $8.2 million, rather than the initial $1 million pool enclosure. The larger facility could offer more activities to the community than just swimming.
The supervisors are expected to make a final decision whether to put the matter on the November ballot in the next two weeks.
Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District) said he opposes the pool project, because the county needs an athletic complex more. The latter will impact “a far greater number of people,” he argued.
“Louisa County is strategically located in between three large cities, which makes it an ideal meeting ground for competitions and tournaments for all sports,” he said.
“With an $8.2 million pool, the county will never recoup construction costs or break even with the operating and maintenance costs.”
Goodman believes an athletics complex could be a lucrative source of income for the county. With kids of his own who play travel sports, he understands what it means for his wallet.
“Whenever you go to a game, you expect to spend money, a lot of it,” he said. “Whether it’s a weekend tournament and you need a hotel or traveling just for the evening for a single game, you eat dinner at a local restaurant. And then there’s the cost of gas, concessions, just to name a few. All of these expenses stimulate other local economies — not Louisa’s.”
Louisa Little League is planning to build the William A. Cooke Complex near the intersection of Pendleton Road and Jefferson Highway (routes 522 and 33) for baseball and softball games.
The land, donated by the William A. Cooke Foundation, will have ball fields, a concessions stand and press box.
With no financial assistance from the county, the group has raised over a quarter million dollars for construction, Goodman said. As for when the complex is slated to open, there’s no answer yet.
“We were hoping to have players on the field by the end of this year, but that looks like it’s been pushed back another year or two thanks to COVID-19,” he said.
When planning began for the complex several years ago, Goodman recalls “a lot of pushback” from local landowners concerned about changing the neighborhood character. The Louisa County Board of Supervisors voted in support, but stipulated that the only sports to be played are softball and baseball.
McIntire said if the county is going to consider building its own athletic complex, it needs to include other sports.
“Soccer is already here and lacrosse and field hockey are coming,” he said.
In some nearby counties, girls’ field hockey teams start training youth on the field as young as eight years old. In Louisa, players aren’t able to start playing until high school. That gap leaves Louisa with a considerable disadvantage when it comes to athletic competitions.
McIntire has seen his organization grow from 60 to 160 young athletes over the past three years. He expects the trend to continue.
Goodman said the Little League would consider allowing the county to add a separate building at the Cooke Complex to house a new aquatic facility.
Joyce Osborne, who is on the board of the Friends of Louisa County Aquatics, said she thinks “it’s a wonderful idea to make it part of a larger athletic complex, as long as it doesn’t proclude the pool.”
With the outdoor pool at the Betty Queen Center only open for three months each year, she’s hoping residents will vote yes for a new aquatics center in November.
Osborne is originally from Northern Virginia and recalls many opportunities for recreational and competitive swimming. When she moved to Louisa, she started going to water aerobics at Tanyard Country Club, then switched to the Betty Queen Center pool when it opened.
Osborne is an avid swimmer and believes it’s one of the few activities anyone can do their entire life.
“There is no age limit, she said. “And it’s beneficial for water therapy, especially for athletes who play contact sports such as football, baseball and soccer.”
One of the biggest expenses in building an athletic complex will be acquiring land.
Fortunately, the county has some —67 acres to be exact — near Louisa County Middle School that was donated by the Purcell family in 2012. To date, nothing has been done with the property.
In 2013, the board of supervisors voted 6-0 to proceed with developing the property as a park. In the same year, the board also voted 4-2 to move $350,000 from the general fund to the parks and recreation capital improvement project fund to begin the park’s development.
“At this time, the board has not instructed staff to take any further action,” said Wanda Colvin, the county’s finance director.
“We know there’s a high demand for athletic fields in the county, said James Smith, director of parks, recreation and tourism. “The primary issue with existing facilities is lighting and availability. If the county decided to build an athletics complex, turf fields would increase the cost, but would be a win-win because it’s better for the longevity of the fields and would allow athletes to practice year-round.”
Smith said he thinks it will be more challenging to garner support for an athletics complex in the near future because of the current economic environment.