Onalaska Senior Spearheads Batting Cage Renovation

Hayli Howard points to the roof and talks about the work she and many others did to fix up the batting cages Thursday afternoon at Onalaska High School.

If You Build It: Hayli Howard Organizes Overhaul to Help Fend Off Elements

By Jordan Nailon

jnailon@chronline.com

ONALASKA — For those who are so inclined there’s always plenty of excuses to skip offseason workouts.

The season is too far away. The couch is super comfy. Dinner’s almost ready. Or, as was the case in Onalaska for many years, the indoor batting cage is leaking and full of ice.

While excuses always seem to be close at hand for those who can’t imagine a better tomorrow, that affliction does not seem to hamper Hayli Howard.

Over the last two and a half years the Onalaska senior has proven that she is a uniquely motivated problem solver. Now, with her final season on the diamond underway and a completely renovated batting cage to show off, it’s apparent that her efforts will benefit the Loggers’ hardball community for years to come.

“For the last few years I’ve been down there in the offseason just hitting and working on all the things that I can and the roof always leaked and in the winter the heater didn’t work and it would freeze over so it made the carpet super slick,” noted Howard, who plays catcher for the Loggers. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve fallen right on my butt. It was horrible.”

The Loggers’ respite from the elements that predictably hamper spring sports in western Washington was built in 1995 by Onalaska golden boy and former baseball coach, Dave Hall. At that time the indoor facility near the turnstiles to the football field was considered a major upgrade primarily because it offered a place to get in out of the cold, rain and snow.

However, effects of time and those dastardly elements were unkind to the cage over the last two decades and change. The walls were thin and lacked insulation. The roof began to spring leaks and the floor was primarily raw concrete where the leaking water would pool up and freeze over in the winter.

“They had thin carpet in there from when the school was built in the 70s. It wasn’t much,” noted Onalaska baseball coach Rocky Stanley.

Howard remembered the condition of the old iteration of the cage in different terms.

“It was disgusting,” she deadpanned.

Instead of simply complaining about the condition of the cage or worse yet, just staying away altogether, Howard took it upon herself to put big changes in motion.

“I got tired of being miserable and then my parents and the superintendent and a couple other people said that would be a good project for my senior year and I thought, ‘I’m capable of that,’” explained Howard, who is set to graduate in June.

The daughter of a contractor, Howard knows that there are three key ingredients to any successful project — Money, materials, and capable hands.

With those necessities in mind Howard began fundraising around the community, including during the town’s Apple Fest, while soliciting raw materials for the project from local businesses. She noted that the Metal Mill donated sheeting to replace the roof and Hampton Lumber supplied the boards that were needed to frame in the interior walls. Once insulation was installed the walls were boarded up tight and coated in a deep shade of green with paint donated by Rodda Paint.

There were other upgrades along the way as well including donations from superintendent Jeff Davis and former Onalaska varsity softball coach, Ken Ulery.

“The school replaced the heater. And we are in the process of putting in a man-door,” added Howard who said the current setup is, “like a big sliding barn door.”

One of the final additions to the new batting cage in the old mill town was a couple of rolls of recycled field turf.  The unwieldy tubes of faux turf were installed in a bout of cross-sport chivalry as the Loggers’ junior varsity baseball team helped to pull the fabric into place.

“A lot of the kids off of the baseball team didn’t know that I was doing that and a lot of the construction of the roof and stuff has just gone on in the last eight months. Now the baseball boys are all super happy that they don’t have to wear seven layers,” noted Howard.

Stanley agreed with Howard’s assessment.

“They were really excited about it. I would say that it sparked some interest in baseball,” Stanley said. “It’s been amazing. She’s just remodeled that whole thing. It’s really nice.”

Perhaps the most important aspect to the success of the project has been the dedicated group of volunteers who helped Howard turn all of those donations into tangible improvements. Howard noted that a fairly consistent group of 6-8 volunteers would show up on designated work days.

“Tug Zandell was a huge help in that department. He kind of spearheaded all of our work parties,” Howard said, adding that Jeremy Neilson also provided contracting expertise to the project.

Not too long ago, after the roof had been installed, the turf pulled tight, and the paint had dried, Howard was thrown a curveball. With the end in sight for what she had undertaken as a senior project she asked a teacher in the high school about the specifics for finalizing her efforts in time to graduate. That’s when she was told that the actual requirements for the senior project are not anywhere near as complex as she was originally led to believe.

“She told me that you just have to give a presentation at the end of the school year. You don’t even have to do a project,” explained Howard.

That development, that she had worked harder than required, would have soured the disposition of many high school students, but not Howard. Instead, she is focusing her energy on finalizing the installation of the man-door, adding lockers for gear storage, and trying to rustle up some new equipment for the double barrel batting cage.

“I just kept doing it anyways because I thought it was something that needed to be done,” said Howard. “When you’re sitting on a bucket throwing balls it gets pretty boring and pretty cold.”

She noted that her biggest take away from the project was a better understanding of how to work closely with a wide array of personalities.

“I had a lot of meeting with the high school coaches to see what they thought needed to be done,” said Howard. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had lot of help form the community, Personally, just asking people for help. I’ve learned a lot in just communicating with people and setting things up.”

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