Harris Middle School approached the Board of Education Thursday night for permission to apply for grant funding from Major League Baseball.
Although land was designated for use as baseball and softball fields in the original design of the campus which includes HMS and Learning Way Elementary, those features have yet to be constructed.
The school pays the City of Shelbyville for use of park facilities for practice and games and must bus students from the school and back, unless parents provide transportation. Because availability of city fields is limited, students may only participate between March and May.
HMS serves about 900 students in what is considered a high-poverty area, with 82 percent of the student population receiving free or reduced lunch.
Only about 30 students are signed up to play baseball or softball. Jimmy Sullivan, who serves dual roles as assistant principal and athletic director, estimates less than 10 percent of the student population is able to participate in athletics due to lack of facilities.
"Athletics can play an integral part in the development of any child -- and especially in children living in poverty," said Sullivan. "I want to make sure all students have an opportunity to play."
The baseball program at HMS has been in existence for 15 years, and softball for seven. In that time the teams have been competitive, earning three conference baseball titles and one conference softball title.
Former Vanderbilt University baseball player and current minor league player Jonathan White began his baseball career at Harris.
The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is a joint initiative of MLB and the MLB Players Association to promote the growth of youth participation in baseball and softball.
After an initial inquiry letter, HMS was invited to apply for matching funds provided the projects serve youth aged 10-16, benefit minorities and provide equal opportunities to female athletes.
The estimated cost to construct the fields is $70,000, which includes infield construction, fencing, seed, irrigation, dugouts and benches, cement, bleachers, field equipment and storage, a backstop and scoreboard. The request also provides for purchase of gloves, uniforms, bats, catcher's and batter's equipment and batting helmets.
If the grant application is successful, HMS will pay $35,000 toward the project. The school has $8,000 cash already in-hand, raised by the school's newly-formed Eagles Nest booster club.
Sullivan pledged to the board that the remaining $27,000 would be raised by the school during various fundraisers this spring and summer -- and that no taxpayer funding would be required or requested for the project.
The board unanimously approved the grant application as well as permission to use the land allocated in the original design.
Board member Amy Martin praised the school's efforts to resolve the challenge, "I want to applaud you for taking the initiative to find the funding."
Construction may begin as early as August of this year, when the MLB funds its approved grants.