When Bob Brobson moved to Portage Park with his two young daughters, he noticed a problem.
“We needed a new play lot,” Brobson said. “So I rallied the community together to encourage the local alderman to put in a new play lot, and within a year, we got a new play lot for the girls to play at.”
Now, years later, with one daughter having graduated from Lane and the other a current student, Brobson, who serves as president of the Lane Girls Softball Booster Club, has turned to a new project — new softball fields at Horner Park, aiming to bridge a gap between baseball and softball resources for Lane and surrounding schools.
Brobson, whose background is in architecture, has drawn up plans to turf two of the softball infields at Horner Park, adding new backstops and dugouts as well. Now, Brobson, with the Lane Tech Girls Softball Booster Club, is campaigning for the turfs to be added. The fields, which would be located next to each other, will still have grass outfields.
Lane Softball has in recent years faced many rainouts at home games, according to junior softball player Emma Dow.
“I ended up missing a lot of my eighth period classes [last year] because all of our games were pushed together, like so quickly,” Dow said. “But yeah, it was because of the rain and everything last year. We didn’t have games for the first month when the baseball team was playing.”
Lane hasn’t been the only school facing these issues. Lake View, Disney Two and DePaul College Prep all play at Horner, according to Lane’s Athletic Director Brent Bradish, and would also benefit from these turf fields.
Bradish is currently working with CPS to navigate the complications of an off-site home field.
“We’re working with CPS right now,” Bradish said. “So one of the roles I’m doing to help this project from the athletic director’s side is trying to connect Chicago Public Schools with the Chicago Park District. And so what makes this project unique is it’s at a separate park — it’s off site.”
Currently Brobson is trying to get the project past two obstacles: Park District approval and paying for the project.
“You need approval,” Brobson said. “The community just can’t go out and put a turf field on somebody else’s property. So I think along with the negotiating with the park district, and hopefully it gets on the capital development; then we can easily raise the funds.”
The project is expected to cost between $350,000 and $450,000 per field, according to Brobson, and multiple sources are expected to help fund the project.
Partial funding for the project was on the 33rd Ward Ballot for Participatory Budgeting in January, which, if passed, will provide over $100,000 for the project, according to Bradish.
“The alderman has committed to this if it gets voted on. … So the alderman is literally committing to a backstop and then the fences and then a dugout, fenced-in dugout area as well. That part of the project the alderman has committed to [if the measure passes],” Bradish said.
The 33rd Ward Office did not respond to an interview request by The Champion.
In addition to local government funding, Brobson is hopeful that possible money from the Chicago Park District, Cubs Charities and the Eve Fries Foundation will help bring the project to fruition. The Lane Girls Softball Booster club is also accepting donations for the project through [email protected].
Even with the funding obstacles, Brobson believes the project is headed in the right direction.
“I’m confident it’ll happen eventually,” Brobson said. “Maybe not this year, but soon. I think there’s a lot of momentum. You know, last year was the 50th anniversary of Title IX for women’s sports. And we were really trying to ride on that coattail of women who have been involved in sports, and I think we’ll still continue to keep that idea that, you know, female athletes should have equal opportunities to men’s sports as well.”
Bradish said the hope for the field is for construction to commence in September to be ready for the spring 2024 softball season.
“It would be really, really exciting,” Dow said. “We’d definitely look forward to it. … It would kind of just put us on a more even footing with other teams and also being able to play earlier in the season.”
Dow said she has seen two high school fields with turf during her career, including one at Whitney Young, and that the ball bounces more smoothly, providing a competitive advantage. Besides advantages, Dow says this will be a step in the right direction of equality for girls high school athletics.
“It would be extremely exciting,” Dow said. “I feel like it just kind of shows a general improvement in caring about women’s sports too, and so that would be awesome, especially as a senior.”
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