As the summer sun sinks low in the sky, the ballfields around Lake Wylie and Clover are filled with kids sliding into second, stealing third base, and slapping high fives as they run across home plate. Along the sidelines, parents and siblings cheer them on.
While older children play ball, their younger siblings can be found behind the bleachers, playing their own version of baseball with plastic bats and tennis balls, practicing for the day when they are old enough to play on the real field on the other side of the fence.
On the bleachers, parents chat and visit, pausing each time they hear the sweet sound of the bat connecting with the ball, watching to see if it sails towards the outfield.
It’s a scene that repeats itself night after night, summer after summer.
Since the first pitch in 2008, the Lake Wylie Athletic Association (LWAA) has built a program where area children can come to play ball. Today, more than 1,000 kids play sports each year through the LWAA.
The organization runs 17 Little League baseball teams, 40 soccer teams, and 26 basketball teams. Each sport has a commissioner who coordinates game and practice schedules, field use, volunteer management, registration and team assignments.
“The entire organization is run by volunteers,” said Ron Domurat, Chairman of the LWAA. “Coaches, board members, field prep, all are volunteers.”
Most of the volunteers are parents, Domurat said. Although, “we do have some volunteers from the community who just want to coach a team or help out in other ways,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll have high school students volunteer to coach or serve as referees or umpires, and that helps a lot.”
Coaches are trained during pre-season clinics that are taught by local professionals. “We supply manuals, guidelines and a library of drills for each sport,” said Domurat. “Across the LWAA sports, the emphasis is on development and fun. Competition is secondary. Every player is guaranteed to play at least 50 percent of the game.”
Boys and girls can join LWAA soccer as early as age three. T-ball leagues begin at age four and basketball at age six. Children are grouped in teams by age. Early training focuses on sport rules, fundamentals, and sportsmanship.
Jeff Grayson, who has coached LWAA soccer for several years and has served as soccer commissioner, said he enjoys watching the kids have fun and progress in their skills.
“I coached a U-10 (ten years of age and under) team, and the first season, they didn’t win a single game,” he said. “The girls didn’t know how to pass or shoot, so we just worked on fundamentals. The next year, the very same team made it all the way to the championship game!”
Some kids stay on the same team from year to year, and skills develop as a team as well as individually. After playing for LWAA, some go on to play for school teams or in competitive club leagues.
LWAA currently relies on schools, churches and neighboring recreation facilities to provide fields for training and games.
“Finding a place to play is a constant challenge,” said Grayson. “We don’t have our own place, so we’ll go to River Hills, Crowders Creek, Allison Creek or wherever. Principals of the local schools and the Clover Parks and Recreation Department are very cooperative and generously let us use their fields, but sometimes we have to make changes. Last year, after the spring rains were so heavy, the fields at the elementary school were in such bad shape that we had to pull away. We’ve been trying to get the park built next to Crowders Creek, and that will give us a consistent place to practice and play.”
Lake Wylie has grown tremendously since the inception of LWAA, and field availability has become a pressing issue.
“If there were more facilities, we could include more teams and give more kids the opportunity to play. Otherwise, we have to limit registration,” Domurat said.
The proposed Lake Wylie SportsPlex at Paddlers Cove, just southwest of Crowders Creek Elementary School, will make a huge difference for organized sports such as LWAA.
“The Sportsplex is good for the whole community,” said Domurat. “We’ll be able to host tournaments there, bringing in visitors who will eat at our restaurants, shop in our stores, and bring tourism dollars into the area.”
About $2.5 million in hospitality tax dollars have been set aside by York County Council to fund the Sportsplex, which will have three baseball fields and three multi-purpose fields that can be used for football, soccer and lacrosse.
“The fields will have artificial turfs, which means they can be used regardless of weather,” explained Domurat. “Artificial turfs will be a significant draw for hosting tournaments in addition to our own community use. On natural surface fields, a big rain storm can make the fields unusable for several days, so the Sportsplex will make huge difference.”
The planned complex will also feature basketball courts, a disc golf course, playgrounds and walking trails. The entire complex is expected to cost nearly $7 million.
“During the season, the LWAA will have games every evening, and tournament play will be scheduled on the weekend,” said Domurat. Anytime the fields are not reserved, the public can use them for adult leagues or casual play.
For more information about LWAA and the Lake Wylie SportsPlex, visit lwsports.org or look for the organization on Facebook.