Two years ago, fourth-grader Charlie Palminteri had a vision for the concrete-hard, rock strewn Winston Wells Ballfield in Cruz Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands, where he and his friends played baseball. He wanted it green, soft and safe, so he made turf development the subject of his science fair experiment, cultivating test plots of the field's soil to see which mixture of sod, compost and sand would produce the softest results. Since then, and under the tutelage of Dave Minner, a turf specialist from Iowa State University, Charlie has seen the full practical application of his experiment.
Dream, determination lead to refurbished baseball field
It takes a village to grow a field.
Two years ago, fourth-grader Charlie Palminteri had a vision for the concrete-hard, rock strewn Winston Wells Ballfield in Cruz Bay, St. John, where he and his friends played baseball. He wanted it green, soft and safe, so he made turf development the subject of his science fair experiment, cultivating test plots of the field’s soil to see which mixture of sod, compost and sand would produce the softest results. Since then, and under the tutelage of Dave Minner, a turf specialist from Iowa State University, Charlie has seen the full practical application of his experiment.
Minner, who has been hired to coordinate the Education and Resiliency Through Horticulture program for Gifft Hill School, where Charlie is a student, provided Charlie with a blueprint for what it would take to make his vision a reality.
His mother, Laura Palminteri, reached out to the V.I. Sports, Parks and Recreation Department to get permission to upgrade the field. Then she and Charlie gained the support of about 40 to 50 volunteer turf-layers through Facebook, fliers, school bulletin boards and word of mouth, she said.
The Sports, Parks and Recreation Department identified a 10-week window after the St. John Carnival to close the field to public use, Palminteri said. As soon as they were able, on July 20, contractors who donated their time and backhoes stripped the 3,600-square-foot field so the volunteers could rush in with topsoil, compost, seed, fertilizer and a home-grown system of hoses and timers, all donated by St. John businesses, to keep it watered.
“It was a dirt-packed field. It was hard as concrete. When we went to do the test plots, it took Charlie half an hour to scrape half a five gallon container of dirt because that’s how hard it was. You could hardly put a trowel in it,” Palminteri said of the science fair experiment that started the project.
The field’s turn-around is a source of community pride for St. Johnians, Palminteri said.
“This is all grass roots. There has been some monetary donations, but no big huge monetary donation. It’s been the local community getting out there with our muscles, hoes and rakes and doing it. The local construction companies came out with the heavy equipment and donated that, and we couldn’t have done it without them, that’s for sure, but there’s no three quarters of a million here that’s for sure,” Palminteri said, referring to the amount that the University of the Virgin Islands has spent, with limited success, to construct two soccer fields on the St. Croix campus.
By Oct. 1, the Winston Wells field should be ready for play, Palminteri said. On Thursday, the Palminteris, Minner and other neighborhood residents who participated in the project spent two hours “top dressing” the field, a finishing touch process of filling in holes and divots with sand.
“I saw a lot of people getting really hurt on this field,” Charlie said as he sprinkled sand over a rough patch Thursday night. “I was sitting right over there watching the adults play, and a I saw someone land and break a femur.”
“I think this is better than my vision,” he added. “I think we thought it would just be a little bit of grass here and there, but it’s completely covered.”
Jennifer Doran said her two sons played flag football on the field and incurred many injuries. She said her children were eager to use the new, refurbished field.
“It’s a 10-year-old’s dream, and everyone is making it happen,” she said.
Minner said he was skeptical that a bunch of lay people could pull off such a transformation, especially with the limited resources in terms of heavy equipment, that could be had on St. John. However, the enthusiasm and commitment of the mother-and-son team persuaded Minner to lend his expertise.
“Usually when lay people come to me with an idea like this, I try to talk them out of it and tell them why they should not do it because of the degree of difficulty and because of the amount of future work involved in keeping it up, but they were just not having it. They were like, ‘We are going to do something,'” Minner said. “I gave them a plan and they went out and did it in the island way. Normally I have professional equipment and lots of resources at my disposal, but this is St. John, and we just work with what we have.”
Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams said the department has not had funding to upgrade the field and that this effort is a great example of a public-private partnership. He said the department has lent manpower and equipment to the field’s development and is ready to step up in terms of maintaining the finished product.
“I must say overall of St. John, the community is always ready, willing and able to help in whatever endeavors the department has,” Williams said.-By Amanda Norris, email email@example.com.