By Bruce Amaro
---- — As the classic movie line says, “Build it and they will come.’’
Northern Essex Community College is building its own field of dreams, allowing the school to resurrect its women’s softball program.
NECC Athletic Director Sue MacAvoy thinks she finally has the makings of a renewed softball team and the money to restore the school’s old NECC softball diamond next to the baseball field on Kenoza Street.
With money raised from donations and student activity fees, NECC has completed most of the work to restore the softball field. The restoration comes in response to a new interest among students to field a softball team.
NECC plans to re-enter a college softball conference next year. The school’s softball team has not competed in about 18 years, MacAvoy said.
There are no cornfields around the diamond from which players can mystically emerge, but there is a new clay in the infield, a rebuilt backstop, and the trees and branches that covered the baselines and vines clinging to poles and seats have been cut back. Coach Robert Gillespie plans to meet with players this fall, train this winter and start using the field in the spring.
“They’ve put a new infield in, they put new benches in, they’ve done some fencing and they’re going to redo the backstop,’’ Gillespie said. “But right now with the budget, that’s about all they can do.”
While students have shown an interest in softball for the 17 years MacAvoy has been with NECC, no one ever gave the idea any sustained effort until last year. Eighteen women approached her to start a new softball team.
Once a coach and player, MacAvoy has had requests like this before, but this year they turned into a recruiting drive that lured enough players for a team.
To coach the new team, MacAvoy brought in Gillespie, an experienced girls softball coach who recently moved to this area from New Jersey and who teaches in Georgetown.
“I want to put a respectable team together,’’ Gilispie said. “The baseball team has done very well at NECC. There’s no reason that a women’s sport like softball shouldn’t do well also.
“There’s a lot of interest generated, a lot of excitement,’’ he said. “We have about 18 girls that are interested in it, so far. There seems to be a high interest from kids that played in high school. We have girls that enjoy the game and want to get back into it. They want to get back at it at a different level.’’
While the rest of the school’s collegiate teams have excelled and built NECC’s reputation as one of the state’s prominent athletic junior colleges, the softball team lapsed.
“This is a great opportunity to reintroduce the sport back into our school,’’ said NECC President Lane Glenn. “Athletics are an important component in higher education.’’
“We have some of the highest rated teams in the junior college sports,’’ he said. “Our baseball team made it to the National Junior College Athletic Association league’s World Series in Texas this May.’’
The softball team will begin organizing as the school’s next semester starts in January.
“We bring them in, have a meeting, make sure they’re registered for classes as a full-time student,’’ MacAvoy said. “They need to meet the eligibility requirements of the NJCAA. They must all have and pass a physical.’’
The team will begin playing in March and finish the season in May. It will play most of its games in March and April. MacAvoy said she believes the season will have about 20 games.
She said the program is looking for hard-working, committed players who intend to pursue high levels of academics.
“That’s the main thing to start with,’’ she said. “We want people who love the game, who want to continue their education.’’