As we approach the final leg, a Rockford City Council vote on October 4, we at the International Women’s Baseball Center believe it’s a good time to thank our supporters and dispel some misconceptions.
It has been a long, uplifting and at times discouraging process. But neither we, nor our advocates, have wavered in our dedication to this project or to Rockford as its home.
When we arrived in Rockford in 2016 our original plan was to build an education center and museum on the property across from Seminary St. from Beyer Stadium, which was generously donated to us by J&M Plating.
But at that time, we did not know the community, its needs or the people of the region.
Since that time we have worked in Rockford and around the world to make Rockford the international home of women’s baseball. We have had great success.
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The IWBC hosted the National All-Girls Baseball Tournament in Rockford for three years. The latter saw over 400 girls play in a women’s baseball tournament on Beyer and Sports Core.
Additionally, we have hosted large-scale events such as the Rockford Fisheries 75th Anniversary Celebration, a Penny Marshall celebration that brought national and international attention to the IWBC and Rockford.
We hosted the Major League Baseball Play Ball event in town, and in partnership with the Society of American Baseball Research, we hosted the Second and Third Annual Women in Baseball Conferences at the University of Rockford. This conference is the only one of its kind in the world.
During each of these events we have tried to involve the local community, with some success but not at the level we hoped for. Eager to forge stronger bonds and encourage community engagement, I set out to introduce myself and the IWBC to the community.
This effort led to a relationship between the IWBC and local leaders of the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Booker Washington Community Center, community advocates such as Joyce Higgins, Ret. Judge Patrick Yarbrough, director of the Boys and Girls Club Chip Stoner and many more.
The goals of the IWBC have always included creating opportunities for girls and boys to learn leadership, self-confidence and self-esteem through baseball. The young people of our community also deserve these opportunities.
To this end, we have proposed that the IWBC Blackhawk Activity Center be built on the IWBC property. The center of activities will be above all for this community. It will provide interior cages for batters and pitchers that can be disassembled to allow open space for other athletic practice or instruction.
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The facility will work in conjunction with Blackhawk Boys and Girls clubs as well as other community centers, such as the Booker Washington Community Center, to provide athletic opportunities and programs to an area of Rockford in desperate need.
With this activity center, we will also add to the sports tourism opportunities in Rockford by designing tournaments. Few sports facilities have covered training areas available to tournament participants.
This commitment to the youth of South Rockford necessitated a review of the IWBC’s original plan. The new plan will have the activity center and parking lot on the west property, and the education center and museum on one acre of property at the north end of Beyer Park.
The museum will not affect the historical integrity of the ticket booth or the steps leading up to the field, nor will it interfere with proposed improvements to Beyer Field or prevent anyone from playing baseball there.
I repeat, this educational center and this museum will not be built on Beyer’s playground. The campus site we offer is accessible to everyone on our website. The drawings show where and how these elements fit together, while keeping the terrain as it is today.
In their calls to simply “build the museum across the street”, the opposition never mentioned the center of activities, nor the fact that if we did that, a $ 1 million investment in the youth of South Rockford should disappear.
What about these children? Is a piece of “ash trail” more important than them? Is an “endangered worksite marker” really more important to the well-being and future of Rockford than a youth center? We do not think so.
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We don’t want you to forget that J&M Plating has donated a property to the IWBC, as this is where a unique youth center will be built. We don’t want you to forget that we changed our plans because to do so would ignore the fact that we care enough about this community to talk to them, ask them what they need and what they want.
We absolutely want you to know that we did it. We’ve taken polls, spoken to community leaders, read city and state statistics and reports, and concluded that the youth of Rockford deserve a place to learn and grow.
We also want you to know that we, with your help, intend to build this place.
The IWBC is dedicated to the goal of preserving the history and legacy of women’s baseball and Rockford area sports, but we are even more dedicated to the young people who we believe can benefit the most from this history. .
It is important to show young people that they too are part of a larger heritage, which is not just white or male. Yes, the larger history of the region is important, as are the sports practiced there, but what is history if not a plan for the future?
Use that story, share it, make it part of a bigger story, but never make the thoroughness more important than the big picture.
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A long destroyed field and the memories of high school a few should never eclipse the folks who live in the Blackhawk community. They are also a part of that story and deserve to be celebrated for their role in it, included in the narrative, and respected for the place they still hold.
The IWBC believes that honoring history isn’t just about keeping things as they are, as they always have been.
To truly respect history, to help it live, we must give it and all that it means to young people, putting it back wrapped up in stories of sacrifice, leadership, growth and determination.
And if we do that, the young people who become its stewards and history itself will thrive and continue to inspire. Thanks for your continued support, Rockford.
Kat Williams is President of the International Women’s Baseball Center.