THE ISSUE

When the renovated Roberto Clemente Field in southeast Lancaster city was dedicated this spring, Boys & Girls Club CEO Karen Schloer said it had “the ability to level the playing field for our kids.” The facility has seen heavy use since its debut in September 2018, LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher reported Monday, and it is earning rave reviews.

The $1.2 million it took to renovate Roberto Clemente Field at South Duke and Dauphin streets was money well spent, in our opinion.

This is exactly the kind of smart community investment in youth and youth sports that pays dividends in numerous ways — and will for years to come.

According to data compiled by the Boys & Girls Club, more than 3,000 children participated in at least one activity at the renovated field over the course of its first year, and many have been there repeatedly.

It’s being used regularly by gym classes, varsity teams, sports leagues and other organizations, Stuhldreher reported. Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Club clubhouse next door, which opened in June, saw an average daily attendance of 75 over the summer.

Here are some more statistics from September 2018 through August 2019:

— The field was open 204 days.

— Multiple events were held on 103 days.

— It was used by eight schools and seven high school teams.

— It hosted 311 youth activities.

“I’m super satisfied and really proud of the numbers,” Schloer told LNP.

The land is owned by the School District of Lancaster, which has granted the Boys & Girls Club a 15-year lease for $1 per year.

The project was spurred by a $750,000 challenge grant from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which received the money as a donation from Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, LNP’s Hurubie Meko reported. The Richard S. and Ann B. Barshinger Family Foundation also pledged $1.5 million toward the overall campus and operations.

In April, former Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the field (its full name is Roberto Clemente Field at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Park).

We applaud the Ripken Foundation, Ollie’s and the Barshinger Foundation for financing the project, which included multisport synthetic turf, digital scoreboards, a backstop, dugouts, bleachers and fencing.

One highlight in the past year at Clemente Field was “Celebration of Sport,” a spring collaboration with the Lancaster Recreation Commission and the School District of Lancaster that won an award from the Aspen Institute. About 250 participants were involved in what’s planned to become an annual event, Stuhldreher reported.

The Boys & Girls Club makes the field available free of charge. Organizations must go through an application process and show proof of insurance.

“We are using it as much as we can,” CJ Freeman, a health and physical literacy specialist at the school district, told LNP. Freeman, who spends half her time teaching physical education at nearby King Elementary School, said the renovated field is “100% better than it was before.”

Brian Ombiji is CEO of the AFC Lancaster Lions, a soccer program focused on developing elite players. About 70 children from pre-K to college-age participate. “Roberto Clemente Park has been vital for our scholar-athletes,” he told Stuhldreher.

And Christina Portelli, who coaches McCaskey varsity girls soccer, said summer practice at Clemente Field went so well that she inaugurated “turf Tuesdays” this fall. The team plays about one-third of its games on artificial turf, she told LNP, so practicing at Clemente gives the team valuable exposure to the different speed and touch compared with natural grass.

There were some neighborhood complaints about the formerly open field being fenced off, but it had to be for security reasons, Schloer said. However, she said the club has done everything possible to make the field available for community use.

The club has commissioned neighborhood “MVPs,” individuals authorized to unlock the field for informal use. They’re expected to keep an eye on things and make sure rules aren’t broken.

In addition, the club plans to fine-tune the application process for using the field and continue building partnerships with nonprofits, youth programs and neighborhood groups, Schloer told LNP.

We support anything that opens up the new and improved Roberto Clemente Field to more participants and more activities. But it’s already a home run in our book.