St. Gertrude to build ‘field of dreams’ in Henrico

St. Gertrude High School students gather at the site of what will become the school’s new athletic complex in Henrico County.
It took nearly a century, but the St. Gertrude High School “Gertie Girls” will finally have fields of their own – and a presence in Henrico County.

At a fundraising campaign kick-off held April 28, parents, students, alumnae and friends of the school gathered at the site of a future athletic complex off Park Central Drive to envision the soccer fields, softball diamond and tennis courts soon to take shape. In addition to a turf field for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, the Outdoor Athletic Center will boast a grass field, concession stand, restrooms, storage space, athletic training room, meeting room and a walking path that can be used by the cross country team.

The complex will be a godsend for families and staff at SGHS, who have relied on a cobbled-together network of rented and borrowed playing fields, a handful of buses and “the patience of our parents” to keep track of the teams’ whereabouts and schedules, said Margaret Shibley, director of alumnae & public relations.

“Our students play in 12 different places; our buses are going all over town,” said Shibley. “We’re at Byrd [Park] for tennis matches; we’re practicing at Humphrey Calder [Community Center]. We play soccer and lacrosse at St. Joseph’s Villa, and we’re at Dumbarton for softball.”

Among the alumnae at the kick-off ceremony was Joanne McDonald, who played field hockey at St. Gertrude in the 1960s – when finding a playing field was considerably simpler.

“Back in our day there just wasn’t the amount of [athletic] associations; there were not as many people vying for space,” said McDonald. When she watched softball games at Humphrey Calder back then, said McDonald, “It felt like our own private little field.”

But in recent decades, as St. Gertrude athletic programs grew and community organizations multiplied, the land-locked school on Stuart Avenue in Richmond found itself with no room to expand its fields.

The committee of SGHS staff and alumnae that went in search of a site walked some 40 different properties, said Susan Walker, the school president. And with 20 minutes travel time established as the outside limit of distance from the school, Henrico County sites were high on the list.

“This is only an 11-minute drive from the school,” said Walker of the Center site, noting that St. Gertrude has students hailing from 20 different zip codes. “This way, no one has to go too far.”

The 16-acre tract is not only easily accessible from Interstates 95 and 295, said alumna Leslie Koenig Stack, but also adjoins the former Best Products parcel recently purchased by Henrico County that has been proposed for use as administrative offices. “It’s going to be a real win-win for us,” said Stack, whose two daughters also attended St. Gertrude.

Susan McNamara, chair of the board of trustees, noted that the land was also the site of the proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame, which ended up locating in Charlotte, N.C.

“So, obviously,” exclaimed Stack, “that wasn’t meant to be!”

All zoning has been approved for the athletic center, and officials at the 90-year-old school are ready to start building – as soon as enough funds are raised. If the campaign can attract an additional one million dollars in donations by July 1, said Walker at the kick-off, “We can be playing on this field by fall.”

“So I want you now to imagine these fields alive with the shouts of our Gertie Girls,” Walker told the gathering of alumnae and parents, adding that when she first opened up the architectural rendering of the center on her computer, she had almost cried.

“The buses will all be in one spot,” she told the audience. “The trainer will be in one spot.

“And now you parents will know where your daughters are. You won’t have to look at the website to know where to find them.”
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Henrico County Public Schools officials will discuss the division's efforts to enhance and improve student achievement during a town hall meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Varina High School. The number of fully accredited Henrico County schools rose to 48 this year, up from 45 last year, but seven Henrico schools were denied accreditation by the Virginia Department of Education. HCPS officials will discuss how the division is making gains and working toward its goal of full accreditation for all schools. Full text

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