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Third place winner Sierra Pizzola Maple Hill High School

Diamond Strong: A New Field, A New Respect

Chieko Akiyama once said, "The power of the individual is small, yet we believe in the strength of the collective human energy, just as we know a drop of water is the source of a great river." Diamond Strong began as a mere dream, but ended with a new softball field and a community bonded over one project.

A challenging economy threatened athletic programs in our school district. As our community reacted to budget cuts and program losses, it became clear that we needed a new approach. Listening to parents and students make the case for why certain things were important, made me realize that was the easy part. The real challenge was working together to inspire a solution. Similar to a meandering river in search of its path, we needed to come together to increase our flow.

Preserving opportunities for athletes to play the sport I loved so much would require sharing my passion. I needed to be the drop of water, the source to motivate my community and unleash its potential to supply the river.

Our varsity softball field was little more than a dirt clearing, with no protective fencing, or dugouts, an inadequate backstop and no surface material. With every crack of the bat and smash of the ball, players on the sidelines dodged another near miss. It was a matter of time before an injury would call into question the field's safety. The cost, time and labor made a new field impossible even for our devoted school district.

Diamond Strong began with presenting a plan before the Board of Education to host a softball player development clinic drawing athletes from throughout the region, as well as rebuilding the High School softball field. Coming from a small suburban community where the average graduating class has less than one hundred students, at first this project did not seem within the realm of possibility. People asked questions like, "What happens if you get halfway through field construction and you don't have enough money?" For some, supporting the vision of a fifteen year old student was difficult, but the early course of a river is often steep. Once a local construction company took the leap of faith and volunteered support, it added a level of credibility to the project. The river began to change course.

Armed with the Board's approval, we held fundraisers including a spaghetti dinner, garage sale, bake sales and a bottle drive collecting over 11,000 returnables. The enthusiasm spread and over $8,000 in donations was raised thanks to hundreds of participants. Nearly twenty businesses contributed the remaining $20,000 cost in donations of building materials, labor and the use of equipment. As with any river, it tends to widen as it continues on its course.

Diamond Strong involved community members of all ages, from children collecting bottles at their elementary school, to teenagers donating their belongings for a garage sale and adults who gave their time and talent. We broke ground in October of 2011, volunteers on hand with their tools. The field was bulldozed and graded. Dump trucks unloaded infield material. Forms were set for dugouts and concrete pads were poured. The fence posts were mounted. The framework for the dugouts was built. The roofing was added. Finally we had a new field. Much like a river flows downstream and picks up materials from the river bed, our river was rich with human energy and generosity.

Today, nearly a year after presenting before the school board, the softball field at Maple Hill High School is ready for the first game, equipped with new fencing, dugouts, a backstop, infield material and bases. Diamond Strong brought a new sense of appreciation for the power of a determined community. It would not have been possible without the strong, motivated and generous people that gave their time and resources. Together we learned that rivers are a tremendous resource that make up our earth's topography, quite similar to the goodness of human nature.

Our softball field will forever be a place where friendships are formed, families bond and dreams come true. We know that over time flowing water and sediment may cause erosion, but they also sculpt the landscape around a river. The bank of this river is a place I am proud to call home, Schodack, New York. We may not be a community with the longest river, or the biggest volume, but together we are certainly the most powerful.