CECILIA — Pat Clay struggles to find the words.
From parents of current and former players to members of the St. Martin Parish community, the 57-year-old is often mentioned as helping the Cecilia softball program become a success, first as an assistant coach and then later as head coach. Clay is more importantly considered as the inspiration behind the construction of the new complex being currently built on Cecilia Loop.
But as Clay leaned against the brick wall in the complex’s dugout on Friday afternoon, the man is humbled by his surroundings and is overcome with emotion.
“It means the world to me,” said Clay, holding back tears. “We fought and scraped for everything we got. ... For them to give us this is ... makes me really happy. Real happy.”
In the past 13 seasons, Cecilia has been one of the more consistent softball programs in Acadiana.
Cecilia has made the postseason nine times, won district championships four times (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007) and reached the Fast Pitch 56 tournament in 2002, 2004 and again in 2007, losing that year to Kaplan in the Class 3A semifinals. The program also produced such all-state stars and future college players as Heidi Robin (LSU) and Pat’s daughter, Jenny Clay Champagne (McNeese State).
Despite that success, Cecilia has never got to play a true home game. The team has long played on a non-regulation field which sits behind the St. Martin Parish Library, located a quarter mile down the road from the high school.
“It is not easy maintaining a field and to have to dump funds into that field that you can only use for three months,” said assistant coach Chris Guidry, who has had two daughters play for the team. “We always had the vision of having a softball field of our own. There have been a great deal of athletes that come through here and they all deserved to play on a regulation field.”
It didn’t take long for new principal Daniel LeBoeuf to realize this after taking over a little more than a year ago.
“The first few softball games I attended as principal, I had several parents come up to me,” LeBoeuf said. “They told me that they had been demanding a field and that they hadn’t gotten it yet.”
Things started to change after the school board passed an athletic bond and purchased the land at Cecilia Loop in 2014.
“This has been a long time coming,” current Cecilia coach Cody Champagne said. “The athletic bond came up, and they had some extra money so then it was that the girls need a field. So the question was asked where we could put it.”
The initial plan was to build the new complex right next to baseball field, but that wouldn’t have had provided adequate room for fans. Then the property on Cecilia Loop was discussed as a possible site and was approved. The construction began in August with help from the community. From donating money, materials or manpower (like laying the sod in the outfield), the parents and community rallied to help see the project succeed.
“We didn’t know exactly what to do, but we figured it out as we went along,” Champagne said. “We had a parent donate the fence. We paid for the material, and he came out here and him and his cousin came out and put up the fence. The parents really came through.”
“The parents and the volunteers have been unbelievable,” said LeBoeuf, who estimates the project cost at about $120,000. “You can’t do better than this in many places.”
The new complex, named “The Loop” is inspired by Louisiana-Lafayette’s softball complex.
The home dugout is 20x40 while the visitor’s dugout is 14x40, with both brick structures equipped with storage units. The left field foul pole will be at 200 feet with the right field pole being marked off at 190 feet, an increase of 12 feet from the current location.
A concrete path will be laid between the two dugouts behind the brick wall, while limestone will be laid toward the park’s front entrance. That will serve as a temporary pathway until a concrete one can be poured before next season.
A Coca-Cola seven-inning scoreboard has been ordered and should be delivered within the next four to six weeks. Batting cages will be installed in the next few weeks as well as bleachers.
Backstop nets will be put up in the next few weeks, and the foul poles at the old park will be transferred over to new field and sponsorship signs will be placed along the outfield fence.
A concession stand and restrooms are planned to be constructed for next season.
“It’s all coming together,” Champagne said. “I have a core group of eight seniors. Those parents would like to see them play on it this year. We’re trying to get it there. It is very close.”
The team wraps up the regular season with three games at home and is hoping that the complex will be ready by early April. The team’s Senior Day is on Saturday, April 11, against Westgate with home games against Kaplan and Rayne the following Tuesday and Wednesday.
Weather permitting, the construction of the road connecting the school and the field will be the final hurdle for the team playing at “The Loop” this season.
Former softball star Jenny Clay Champagne, can’t wait for that day to finally arrive.
“It is pretty amazing that the girls are going to get something so fabulous,” she said said. “The program has been great for so many years, and the girls have nothing to show for it. Now when people come and get to see how good the field is that they are going to be like ‘Oh that is Cecilia’s softball field.’ It is exciting.”