Just a few months after a group of sponsors set their field lighting plan in motion, Mustang sports fans are seeing the fruits of their labor.
Eight light poles around the George Mason High School baseball field and six around the softball field are now in place, and soon they will be wired with lights to illuminate the fields into the evening hours.
The switch may be flipped as soon as Feb. 1, and it’s a fast timeline that has those involved in the lighting project amazed by the grassroots fundraising effort.
According to Mason Athletic Director Tom Horn, lighting the fields was an idea long-mulled, but not brought to fruition until now.
“Those of us who have been around for a long time were skeptical that their interest would be enough, but we’ve been happily proven wrong,” Horn said. “Their interest was definitely enough. Their effort was enough. And here we go.”
Mason Athletic Boosters President Craig Cheney is similarly impressed.
“Everybody came together in a workable plan, including the school board allowing us to do this, in such a short period of time,” Cheney said. “It’s amazing that we’ll have lights turned on some time probably in the next few weeks. … It’s far exceeded my expectations.”
The sponsors – dozens of parents of current and former athletes, and community members who wanted to be part of the project – have worked with the school’s athletic department and boosters to raise funds in a way Cheney says has not before been attempted.
The $359,000 cost to light the fields will be offset by $110,000 of Capital Improvements Program (CIP) funds provided by the City. The remainder will be collected through donations, as well as loans from individual and other lenders, whose money will be paid back over time with funds brought in through advertising, business sponsorship, and similar means.
The up-front cash has allowed the project to move forward unhindered, but fundraising continues.
“Although the lights are sitting up and will be working soon, we’ve still got a lot of work to do to raise funding,” Cheney said. “Usually when you see the physical improvement, people think you’re done. We’re not done.”
To date, about $50,000 has been collected in fundraising, and donors visiting mustanglights.org can “bat” a single ($100) or double ($250) contribution, all the way up to a $10,000 grand slam.
The vast majority of area schools – and all but one in Mason’s Bull Run District – have lighted baseball and softball fields. Beyond updating the facilities, Horn says that the lights will allow for evening play and thus later start times for games. Starting games after work hours will allow for Mason baseball and softball games to see more community involvement, as Horn says was seen after lights were put up around Mason’s football stadium in 2004.
Lights on the fields will also increase their available hours for use, ensuring that the many Mason athletes have adequate practice time, Cheney said.
Though the immediate benefit of the lighting project to student athletes is evident, both Cheney and Horn agree that other community members will reap the rewards, be it through youth practice or the programming put on by the City’s Recreation and Parks Department through shared use of the softball field.
“It’s an auxiliary benefit that’s huge,” Horn said. “We’re not lighting this field for three months a year. We intend for them now to be available for much more use than they have been.”