Cover Story

Linemen Step Up To The Plate For Youth

Story and photos by Laura Emery, Field Editor

 

Andy Ware is one of many young athletes who will benefit from the volunteer work headed up by former Southside Electric Cooperative lineman Frank Robertson.

As darkness falls, the community gathers. Children with gloves, helmets and bats take their positions on the diamond. The ballpark is their stage, the people in the bleachers their audience.

The first crack of bat against ball unleashes the crowd’s enthusiasm, as the stadium lights illuminate the figures of young athletes running bases, throwing balls — all trying to make the big play. The familiar smells of hotdogs and nachos waft through the warm spring air. It’s all part of a timeless American tradition.

It’s the beginning of youth-league ball season in Crewe on the Beamer and Hackney fields. This evening’s game was made possible in part by a special group of retired Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) linemen who epitomize the core values of electric cooperatives and their commitment to community.

For two days, six retired linemen toiled — digging trenches, hoisting banks of lights, setting poles, and running hundreds of feet of conduit and wire underground — all in an effort coordinated with the Crewe-Burkeville Youth Recreation Association (CBYRA) to install stadium lighting over the ballpark’s third, not-yet-named field.

And, now, local youngsters gather beneath these lights as the community comes together to enjoy an evening of America’s favorite pastime …

The six retired SEC linemen who helped with the light-installation project include (from left) Frank Robertson, Jack Leslie, Milton Gray, Robert Stewart, Jimmy Hagaman, and Bobby Shreck.

THE SKILLED SIX

This story begins in December, when Crewe attorney Jack Boswell was working to help CBYRA get utility poles from SEC for this third field. In talking with the co-op about the best way to get the poles installed, Boswell was told that he should contact retired SEC lineman Frank Robertson, who is known for his strong sense of community involvement.

Boswell in turn passed on this information to Joanne Worsham, project manager at Longwood University and president of the CBYRA.

 “I personally contacted Frank who, in turn, contacted the other retirees from SEC, all of whom agreed without hesitation to pitch in and help,” says Worsham. Robertson contacted former SEC colleagues Robert Stewart, Jack Leslie, Milton Gray, Jimmy Hagaman, and Bobby Shreck.

The six retired SEC linemen jumped at this opportunity to give back to their community by installing the needed lighting. However, the project did have its challenges. By the time the work was set to begin, the CBYRA was scheduled to hold its opening ceremonies at the ballpark in only two weeks, so the men had to work quickly and efficiently. “Time was tight,” says Robertson. “But if anybody could do it, our group of guys could do it.”

Lights on the third field would allow for evening games and make it possible for concurrent games on all three fields if needed. Additionally, the CBYRA is scheduled to host the minor league district and state baseball tournaments this year, and the third field could be used for tournament practice.

The six retired linemen spent windy afternoons on March 23 and 24 wiring and installing the poles and lights. “We made a great team. Everything went smoothly and, most importantly, we all worked safely,” Robertson says.

The men volunteered their time and skills, and SEC contributed its equipment. “By donating our equipment, the co-op sees this as our way of being good citizens in the areas we serve and supporting the activities that are important to the people who live in our service territory,” says Frank Harris, manager of public and member relations at SEC. “Supporting our local area youth is very important to the co-op.”

Four-year-old Jordan Hurte of Crewe is all smiles as he waits to get out on the field and play. 

The CBYRA bought the poles, lights and related materials with money raised in local fundraisers. Worsham explains, “As a volunteer organization, our financial resources are limited, and we often rely on volunteers to donate their time and efforts to us when it is most convenient for them. For example, numerous local, skilled tradesmen and volunteers have been working nights and weekends and donating their time in building new dugouts and preparing our fields.” CBYRA purchased the poles from SEC, and the lighting materials and cable from Farmville Wholesale.

One of the qualities of electric cooperatives that sets them apart from many other businesses is cooperation — working with local, regional and national organizations to help communities they serve.

Robertson says, “We enjoyed working together again; it was just like the old lineman days. When you’re a part of the co-op family, you love what you do and that always involves serving other people. For example, we did the lighting on the ballpark for the area’s youth, but it’s no different than back in our lineman days when we’d be out late at night during storms getting the lights back on — only we did that for our co-op members. It’s a mentality that sticks with you even after you retire from the co-op family.” 

NO SMALL FEAT

(Clockwise) Kelsey Burke, Kennedy Good,  Mary Rash,  and Gracie Rogers are among the many youth league ball players that can now utilize the third field. Laura Emery photos.

The project to wire the third field with lighting required approximately 140 man-hours over a two-day period. On the first day, the linemen assembled the lights and installed the poles. On the second day, they wired the lights. Six poles were installed on the third field with a total of 28 lights, 1,500 watts each, to illuminate the field.

“You need only look at the quality of workmanship to know that these men know what they’re doing,” says Harris of the volunteer linemen. “All of the guys have high levels of expertise.”

Robertson’s last position at the co-op was as assistant manager of operations. He worked for SEC for 32 years. Jack Leslie also worked for the co-op for 32 years, and last served in the position of right-of-way superintendent. Milton Gray worked as line-tech supervisor, and was employed at the co-op 31 years. Robert Stewart last worked as line-tech supervisor, and was an SEC employee for 31 years. Jimmy Hagaman also worked 31 years for the co-op and last served in the position of district operations supervisor. Bobby Shreck last served as line-tech supervisor and worked for the co-op 32 years.

“We, at Southside Electric Cooperative, are very proud of our retired employees who continue to support their respective communities even though they have retired from our cooperative. This support ensures that our youth have the facilities needed to help them develop as they grow into contributing adults. SEC is very proud to do our part in supporting our communities and our membership in endeavors such as these,” says SEC President and CEO M. Larry Longshore.

From left: Southside Electric's Manager of Public and Member Relations Frank Harris, CBYRA President Joanne Worsham, and SEC President and CEO M. Larry Longshore.

SEC has a long-standing relationship with the CBYRA and youth-league softball and baseball in the Crewe-Burkeville area. Even before the installation of the lights on the third field, SEC has pitched in with light installations, bulb replacements and other field maintenance items for the two other fields (Beamer and Hackney). SEC installed the stadium lights at the Hackney softball field, and a number of SEC employees are also actively involved in coaching teams or helping CBYRA out in various capacities.

“The reason I, and the other guys, were so willing to help install the lights is because of the community’s youth. It’s all about the children, who are our future. If I can help to keep one child out of trouble, then that’s pay enough,” Robertson explains.

SEC sponsors a soccer team and continually supports CBYRA’s efforts through advertising in tournament programs and with fence ads. “Southside Electric, working in collaboration with our local recreation association, is a win-win situation for our community,” Worsham concludes.

THE NATURE OF CO-OPS

By their very nature, electric cooperatives are tightly woven into the fabric of the communities they serve. This takes many forms, from helping with youth-league ball fields, to providing safety training in schools, to assisting volunteer fire departments, to helping raise money for cancer research. In Virginia, co-ops from all points of the compass are actively involved in helping to improve their communities.

Cheyenne Honeycutt steps up to the plate. Cheyenne and her fellow CBYRA leaguers can now play under the lights at three fields in the CBYRA sports complex.

To the east, A&N Electric Cooperative gives safety presentations in the schools to over 400 students a year. This co-op also supports the Eastern Shore Historical Society, Literacy Council, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Habitat For Humanity, Light House Ministries (family shelter program), Little League, local fire companies and community colleges, and a multitude of other organizations.

To the west, Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) contributes to United Way and Boy and Girl Scouts of America, gives safety presentations in local schools, participates in an annual storytelling festival for students, and employees participate in the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Needy Children’s Christmas Program. Randell Meyers, general manager and CEO of PVEC, says, “By supporting community projects, we hope to enrich and improve the lives of those in our service area. Our board and employees alike have a genuine interest in the quality of life in our area, and believe in helping out in the community in any way possible.”

To the north, Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) sponsors WalkAmerica in three counties, an event that raises funds for March of Dimes. NOVEC also participates in the American Cancer Society’s fundraising event, Relay For Life. The cooperative also contributes to the performing arts in all the counties it serves, and supports the Prince William County Public School Education Foundation and the Library Foundation. “By contributing funds to these organizations, we are supporting our children and preparing them for the future,” explains Donna Snellings, public relations liaison at NOVEC. Additionally, NOVEC sponsors numerous youth-league teams. 

To the south, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) has a Relay For Life team called “Mecklenburg Live Wires.” Last year it raised over $8,000 for the American Cancer Society through a variety of fund-raising events. MEC also demonstrates the high-line hazard display at various schools, and provides nine $500 scholarships to young people whose parents are MEC members. MEC also contributes generously toward fund-raising for new community projects in its service area. Brian Mosier, vice president of business development at the co-op, says, “Everything we do is for our service territory, whether we serve the specific school or ball field, since our members are part of those organizations. Helping build up our communities and Southside, Virginia, is part of what Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is all about.”

This is just a sampling of the deep community involvement in which each of Virginia’s 13 member-owned electric cooperatives takes part. As Joanne Worsham, president of the CBYRA observes, “Having a local business like Southside Electric come together with our local recreation association says a great deal about the company and its commitment to our community. We are very fortunate to have them in our area and value our relationship with them.”

And this commitment to community is perfectly defined by the six retired linemen from Southside Electric Cooperative, volunteering their time and talents to help perpetuate America’s favorite pastime in Crewe, Va.

 

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