Community, Lions unite for the kids


News staff writer

May 17, 2006

Jess Munos made a promise to his mother, Lillian Powell, before she passed away. And he has worked very hard to fulfill that promise. Jess, and a large handful of other local individuals and businesses, have donated finances and countless hours of labor making sure that promise is accomplished, and making sure, as Lillian wanted it, local kids have what they need to succeed.

The weather in town can be downright nasty from about September to April. Combinations of cold air off the Pacific or from the high-plains east, Gorge winds and the notorious Northwest wet can produce some pretty miserable outdoor sports conditions for about half of the year.

In the past, when the weather was bad baseball and softball teams had to either endure the conditions, call off practice or move inside an available gym somewhere around town. Starting this year, however, they have another option.

With major funding from the Hood River Lions Club, smaller donations from local businesses and the tireless efforts of numerous volunteers, a new indoor batting and pitching facility was constructed at Hood River Valley High School’s Traner Field.

The facility, which was first used in December for a series of youth hitting camps, is open to all of the community’s boys’ and girls’ teams and features two 70-foot netted cages, one 35-foot cage, two soft toss/tee areas, pitching machines, pitching mounds and a propane heating system. Phase-two of the building will, when funds are available, include the addition of a community locker room, two restrooms, storage space and an office.

“The facility is used by the community, both the high school softball and baseball teams and youth baseball and softball groups,” said HRVHS baseball coach Craig Webster. “The hitting tunnels allowed our high school players to take between 75 and 125 swings per day, and I have seen a dramatic improvement from the beginning of the season until now. As far as the youth are concerned, they are the ones who will benefit most from the facility. They will get to use it at a young age and continue to have it as a valuable resource.”

The facility, which is expected to be named after longtime Lion Bob Thoman, started in concept by Jess and Lillian, who was a Hood River Lion. The Lions stepped up to bat and funded almost $35,000 of the project. And without the generosity of the community, even that much wouldn’t have been enough.

Although too many volunteers helped to list them all, some of the major ones deserve credit.

Plans for the building were drawn up by former HRVHS coach Jeff Lahti. Meanwhile, the former batting cages had to be dismantled. Schlosser’s Welding, Munos and Chuck Johnisee went to work on that. Johnisee, whose dedication to local youth reaches far beyond the field, would prove to be perhaps the most devoted volunteer throughout the project. Martin Sanders volunteered his resources with the framing of the building. Bernie Wells Construction did the concrete and framing of the posts. Randall Tiss provided his services as a contractor. Chuck Thomsen donated countless hours of his time and labor, as did many local coaches and athletes. Terry Bryant donated the facility doors, which open to new green turf carpet donated by Larry Williams. Richie Carter at Abby’s Carpet also chipped in.

Further contributions came from the Hood River Little League, which donated money for the electrical system, Northwest Natural Gas, which provide free installation and connection and the Rotary Club, which purchased all of the facility’s batting nets. And financial donations were made by Lillian Powell, Kevin Nelson, Diamond Fruit, Chamberlin Distributing, TXI Orchards, G.S. Long Chemical Company and Paradise Orchards.

“This has been a huge project,” said Munos. “And it’s amazing to me that it’s coming together. As far as the volunteer effort, it’s been amazing. Absolutely amazing … I made a promise to my mom that this would get done. Her main goal was to put projects together for kids in the community.”

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