They built it because it was time.
But now, after two decades, Academy at the Lakes finally has an outdoor sports field at its campus, off Collier Parkway in Land O’ Lakes.
The new field belongs to arguably the longstanding private school’s most successful sports program: the Wildcats softball team.
“I’ve been here since I was a freshman,” junior pitcher Sydney Klein said, “and everyone has always talked about not having sports fields here, and to be the first to get it is an honor.
“I also feel like we’re a very successful sport at this school, so it feels like an accomplishment — like this team and program has earned it.”
The softball team makes a strong case, especially when it’s not too far removed from winning back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019.
Also, this isn’t exactly a new field. It’s been a team practice field and is technically on loan from the adjacent Myrtle Lake Baptist Church and L.Y.F, an adult center for individuals with special needs.
Throughout the school’s history, its teams have always hosted “home games” remotely. For example, the Wildcats baseball team now hosts its games at Wendell Krinn Technical School, which was formerly Ridgewood High.
The soccer teams and 8-man football team host games up the road, at the fields at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex.
Longtime athletic director Tom Haslam said the softball team did play a game on the field tucked behind Crunch Fitness, at the corner of Collier Parkway and State Road 54. But that was 13 years ago.
And, it was a disaster.
“There was no fence, just a backstop and an infield,” Haslam said. “It was such a dust bowl. … So we’ve built a pretty good (softball) program for not having a home field. I mean, two state championships without your own field — no matter who you are, that’s impressive.”
Bringing the field to life took work, according to Haslam and fourth-year softball coach Elizabeth Munn. After back-and-forth negotiations with the friendly church and adult center neighbors, Haslam says it was all hands on deck for about a month and a half to get the field ready for the March 28 game.
“It really was a team effort to get it done,” Munn said. “We’ve been talking about it since last year, but we needed to do a lot of renovation to make it playable at the high school level.
“It was important to get this when I came on (as coach),” she added. “The parents of the girls have had the best interest of them and the program to make sure we had our own field.”
Haslam said the parents — such as Klein’s family and the family of outfielder Ava Parry — were instrumental in helping get the field ready for hosting games, especially since “It’s not a budget field, it’s not a cheap field,” adding it is “also done right and the way we want it, which was important, too.”
However, the way they want the field is not complete. Haslam says there is a “laundry list” of add-ons, improvements and just basic work still ahead.
For starters, they want to build proper dugouts and scoreboard, as well as improve the fencing, the foul poles and redo the backstop. Eventually, needed amenities such as restrooms and a concession stand will be added.
“We can’t wait to make it even better,” Klein said.
And the Wildcats christened their home field the right way: a 16-1 drubbing of Hernando Christian.
Klein struck out seven and allowed just a walk and no hits through three innings, when the game ended because it was mercy ruled. Juliana Ries and Kiana Wright each drove in two RBI, while Katie Ferguson, Alina Ries, Adelaide Aliano and Klein all drove in a run apiece.
Shannon Kendall’s three-run homer sealed the game as it was the first homer on the home field — a bragging right she was trying to get, too.
“It was kind of a goal of mine, since Molly (Blackwood) is out and she’s our other power hitter,” Kendall said. “Well, a couple of my friends were like, you need to hit one for her at the first game at our own field and break it in for everyone.”
“And, we hope everyone who came out and supported us enjoyed themselves at the very first outdoor home game at Academy at the Lakes.”
Published April 05, 2023