The “Shovel Brigade” — the nine who were given the title for their determination to see the new playing fields completed. Photo: Mark Coplan
The “Shovel Brigade” — the nine who were given the title for their determination to see the new playing fields completed. Photo: Mark Coplan

By Hannah Long

On Saturday, a crowd of committed Berkeley High School athletes and parents, along with neighbors and public officials, came to Derby Park for the groundbreaking ceremony of the new Derby Field sports complex.

Construction is set to begin in early July and be completed by February 2013, just in time for baseball season. The new facilities will include a baseball field, a soccer field, and a basketball court to be used by the Berkeley High baseball team, students at B-Tech, and members of the community.

In the works for 15 years, the project was finally made possible by the passage of bond Measure 1, which will provide the funds to curve Derby Street and build the multi-sport complex. Extra amenities will be financed by donations, including a $10,000 contribution for a new scoreboard by The Lonely Island, a music-comedy group made up of three Berkeley High alumni: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer.

The groundbreaking event, complete with ceremonial red and gold shovels, served to celebrate the beginning of construction and to acknowledge all those who have worked to make the idea a reality.

Nine notable Berkeley figures were given the title of “Shovel Brigade” for their determination to see the plan completed: Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, BUSD director Karen Hemphill, BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett, BHS baseball coach Matt Bremer, city councilmember Darryl Moore, founder of Friends of Derby Field Stephanie Allan, Derby neighbor Susi Marzuola, former BUSD superintendent Jack McLaughlin, and past president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers Barry Fike.

Superintendent Huyett said: “We are very pleased to bring this facility to the students and the community. This was a cooperative effort by the school district and the community.”

Current BHS baseball players, including Hunter Rieger (left) and Jesse Barber (second left). Photo: Hannah Long

Max Anderson, Berkeley city councilmember for District 3, added: “This is a day we won’t forget.  Many of us have been involved in this project for years and years and now, we can finally create the Derby Playing Fields. This project will resonate through the years.”

Two “Field Heroes in Memoriam” were also recognized for their dedication to realizing the vision. First was Tim Moellering, a BHS baseball coach and history teacher who started the campaign to create a home field for the BHS baseball team. Also important to the project was Terry Doran, a former BUSD Board President who passed the first motions of support for the Derby Field.

In addition to city officials, many other Berkeley residents supported the project, including members of the organization Friends of Derby Field. Member Marty Lynch says that he promoted the effort because he believes athletics are an important aspect of a student’s education. “Kids need athletics. It teaches them team-building skills and how to interact with others. Baseball keeps students engaged and, of course, fit.”

Many current and former Berkeley High School baseball players also attended the ceremony to show their enthusiasm for the new field. Freshman athlete Jesse Barber said: “I am super excited for the new field because the San Pablo field was so far away; this one will be better and closer. I’ve been playing baseball for nine years, and I can’t wait to play another three for Berkeley High at Derby Field.”

His teammate, Hunter Rieger, added: “I’m excited because this will be a better playing field and it will draw more fans. I think that this project will really help to build a stronger baseball community.”

BUSD to spend Lonely Island $250K on theater programs
A Berkeley field of dreams close to reality after 15 years [04.04.12]
Call for baseball field to be named after late Tim Moellering [01.21.11]

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