HANOVER TWP. — Jim Kelsall never had a doubt the Hanover community would get behind the home team.
Kelsall, the 42-year-old president of the ASNWR Little League, said a project to place lights at the baseball field along Front Street is the result of a tight-knit community supporting its young athletes.
The idea to improve the field began eight months ago and culminated Thursday night with the first pitch ever thrown under the lights — just after 7 p.m., once 12-year-old Maia Bagusky finished singing the national anthem. The event had been postponed from April 12 due to inclement weather.
“There are a lot of fields around here that have lights, and we don’t. Well, why don’t we?” Kelsall, of Askam, recalled asking himself. “We decided to go on an all-out community outreach effort and make it happen. Lo and behold, here we are.”
The progress, highlighted with a pre-game ceremony thanking donors and volunteers, includes 22 lights that finally were hung Tuesday and Wednesday, 72 seats recovered from PNC Field during its renovation in 2012 and a throwback to a bygone era in Warrior Run which, along with Askam and Sugar Notch, makes up part of the ASNWR league.
In conjunction with the league’s 65th anniversary, the new white, orange and black jerseys of the ASNWR Indians serve as a “throwback”to the long-closed Warrior Run High School. Oak Grove Club of Wilkes-Barre donated $500 as a hat sponsor for the team’s new lids; it was one of many in businesses in the community that stepped up to the plate.
The road to Thursday’s opening could have cost the league more than $30,000, said Kelsall and Hanover Area Little League President Rob Demko, 41, of Warrior Run. Through $275 donations, however, residents and business owners purchased the individual lights and wiring to drop the overall cost to less than $7,000, Demko said.
“Ninety-eight percent of it is family- or individual-owned small businesses,” Kelsall said.
In addition, the ASNWR league has benefited from countless volunteer hours donated by league parents and community members who didn’t have any players taking the field this year. Some stayed until 10 p.m. daily.
J.J. Willis, Bob Bombay and Gene Kobal worked to rebuild bleachers using the reclaimed seats from PNC Field; Frank Palermo, Larry Carbohn, and Tom Mercadante refurbished the concession stand; and Bob Sabecky completed a large portion of the painting that needed to be done, Kelsall said.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 163 Business Manager Mike Kwashnik said IBEW 1319 donated the light poles that were erected April 9 and helped to set up the lights with the work of four volunteer crew members, including foreman Mick Yech.
“The buzz that’s been created by this … it’s hard to describe. It’s like an event,” Demko said, scrolling through numerous text messages on his phone asking about progress at the field.
Lighting the field for evening games opens the opportunity for the league to host larger tournaments and district games, Kelsall said.
In the end, he knew why parents and business owners gave so much of themselves to see the project through to the end. “This is their league and their kids’ league,” Kelsall said of the parents who’ve pitched in.
“From the beginning, it’s always been for the kids,” Demko added. “Every kid, not just his or ours.”