It's Happening: A Five-Year Trip Back in Time to Celebrate Birthdays of Connect-Bridgeport, Bridgeport Recreation Complex
I remember it like it was yesterday. April 15, 2012 was a triple threat. The city was hosting the grand opening of the Bridgeport Recreation Complex and Connect-Bridgeport was about to be officially launched. And if that wasn’t enough going on, we had a cameraman in town capturing our city dynamics for a TV documentary. It was a busy time – and a fun time. And though in one way it doesn’t seem like much time has passed, I guess it has.
Let’s take a trip five years back in time when among players of the 14U Patriot League baseball team that would be playing at the brand spanking new Rec Complex were Tanner Furbee, Hunter Haddix, Dante Bonamico and Elijah Drummond, who all went on to claim memorable spots in Bridgeport High School sports; the latter two about to start their sophomore year at WVU where they are on the Mountaineer football roster.
Among 2012 Little League Baseball stars were Braden Lesher, Koby Kiefer and Chapin Murphy. They are still on the field – for the Indian baseball team under Robert Shields’ coaching. Pitching for Shields that year were Troy Anderson, John Koon, Brady Weaver, Justin Rapp and Cullin Cutright. These days, Koon plays for West Virginia Wesleyan College, hitting .380 and leading the Bobcats with four homeruns. Weaver went on to the U.S. Air Force Academy and walked on to play for the Falcons.
Opening those Rec Complex ballfields was quite an affair. In poured the town’s people, wearing smiles and sporting plenty of pride. We couldn’t inflate the balloons or baseball-style beach balls fast enough. I remember it was sunny and windy and we had a few minor mishaps. Mayor Jim Christie welcomed the masses and WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck was the featured speaker. He also threw out the opening pitch after all the Little League teams were introduced and the opening day ribbon was cut. Those beach balls were bobbing around the crowd and The Washington Wild Things mascot was there. It was a fun, breezy, baseball kind of day.
On its heels was opening day of Bridgeport Little League’s Challenger division; its tenth season. Throwing out the first pitch for that event was Wes Tonkery, a former BHS football All-Stater who had just made his debut with the Mountaineer football team and went on to become a standout linebacker.
Of course, coverage of the Rec Complex opening was among the first articles and photos launched on Connect-Bridgeport. As had the Rec Complex, the Connect-Bridgeport project involved much planning and organizing. Key players included then CVB Director Tim Brady, CVB President Drew Pomeroy, City Manager Kim Haws, Jeff Toquinto and myself. Tim, Jeff and I made trip after trip to Pikewood Creative in Morgantown, working with the company’s masterminds until the template seemed just right.
News events featured in some of our first articles were also signs of the time. The drug war, then, was against bath salts. A town forum was held educating people about the drug and some city law enforcers were part of a major bath salts bust in Clarksburg. There was very little talk about heroin or prescription drug abuse.
It was announced that Planet Fitness was coming to Meadowbrook Mall. Oliver Luck announced that WVU baseball may start playing home games – especially Big 12 games – at the new minor league stadium being built at Bridgeport. Planet Fitness came. The minor league facility did not.
Frank Csonka and Logan Lehosit had stacked wins and honors on the BHS swim team. This year, Lehosit graduates from Fairmont State, where he continued his swim career, excelling and even breaking some records. Csonka went on to become a decorated swimmer at WVU.
Brett Hathaway and Garrett Stanley were about to represent BHS in the annual North/South football game at Laidley Field in Charleston. Stanley went on to play for FSU. Hathaway went on to help coach the Tribe. Speaking of BHS football and Wayne Jamison Field, it had just been announced that in 2012 there would be a brand new scoreboard with plenty of video features and graphics capability. One of the first pieces to roll across that screen was the original “Roll Tribe” video featuring familiar faces in our community.
So in celebration of this memory-inspired blog, I thought I would include my very first Connect-Bridgeport blog, written about the onset of spring and final stages of preparation of the Recreation Complex. Because of its content, I named this April 2012 blog “It’s Happening” – and it kind of stuck. It’s been a fun five years. Already Connect-Bridgeport has started to evolve. That will continue to happen. Kids will continue to graduate up through the baseball ranks – from T-ball and minor league to little league, Patriot ball and Indian baseball. It might just be fun to do this in another five years. In the meantime, Happy Birthday Connect-Bridgeport and Bridgeport Recreation Complex.
Editor's Note: All photos are by Ben Queen, who at the time, was a junior at Bridgeport High School.
More "It's Happening" HERE.
We knew it would happen - and it finally did.
Walking out of our respective homes, schools and workplaces, we were met by the full force of the sun on our backs.
Crumbled, brittle leaves lingered on oak trees, but their mighty branches served as the perfect framework for a true blue sky. Recently glistening with morning frost, the soft ground seemingly breathed in the warmed air; the season’s first flowers pushing through the surface.
Birds chirped in unison. As their songs reached our ears, we were reminded of nature’s perfect harmony.
Along the streets of Bridgeport, residents sprung up on bicycles, scooters and stilts. They walked dogs, pushed strollers and dribbled basketballs. Smiles and pleasant greetings were prevalent.
Spring had sprung.
Soon to follow were the echoing sounds of cracking baseball bats and hard-kicked soccer balls. At Compton and Bridgeport City Parks, squeaky swings and teeter totters got their first major workouts of the season.
Stocking began at Hinkle & Deegan Lakes, thousands of pounds of rainbow, golden, brown and brook trout being spilled into the city’s favorite fishing spot. Kids and adults alike watched in anticipation of angling season.
And here we are this week unveiling the city’s brand new recreational complex, a most anticipated project over the past several months and years. As design work was completed, we got our first vision and as each phase of construction was completed, it became more of a reality. Soon, Little Leaguers would be running the bases, kicking up dust with every accelerated step. Providing game play-by-plays would be announcers, stationed in the state-of-the-art press box. During evening hours, fitness enthusiasts would grace the mile-long walking course, reflecting the day’s events. And there would surely be a pick-up game or two going on at nearby basketball courts.
An abundance of late-winter rain made for very muddy working conditions, but overseers and on-site workers alike stuck to the plan. Of course, that’s not all that was stuck. During one trip to the complex, one opening day committee member came to a standstill in the parking lot sludge.
The next visit to the complex, however, was smooth sailing. We were met by a paved parking lot, freshly planted decorative trees and the smell of cedar mulch. From the press box, we were treated to bird’s eye views of all four fields, turf down, bases being measured and infields being manicured. In the distance, we witnessed the massive state-of-the art scoreboard being hoisted into position. Standing upon the baseball inset in the corridor, we looked to either side of us. In one direction were grazing cows; in the other, an airplane made its way down the runway. The rec complex would be the perfect balance of fast-paced action and relaxation.
The words “Let’s play ball” are indeed music to everyone’s ears. So have a Coke and a smile – and enjoy.
We knew it would happen – and it finally did.