Clover Hill Community Covers All the Bases
The Shenandoah Valley can be too picturesque for its own good. In the western Rockingham County community of Clover Hill, this issue surfaces on occasion for its beloved baseball team, the Bucks. The batter’s view of an incoming pitch can dangerously compete with a setting sun over the centerfield fence, meaning fans might have to sit through a “sun delay.” On these nights, the price to pay for enjoying a gorgeous Valley sky is that games must start a tad later than the 7:30 p.m. scheduled time.
“If the sycamore tree there now dies, it would be even later,” manager Chris Cofer says. “We’ll need a batter’s eye or to plant more trees.”
He knows that messing with tradition is a slippery slope for those running the Clover Hill Bucks. It’s the long history of success and pleasant evenings at Buck Bowman Park that endear this team to its locals.
Maybe it’s a chicken-or-the-egg type of debate about Clover Hill deserving a gifted team like the Bucks or the Bucks deserving a community as passionate and dedicated as Clover Hill. One likely doesn’t thrive without the other.
To fully appreciate Clover Hill, you don’t just stop at the Bucks, however. From a one-of-a-kind volunteer fire company to an immaculately renovated schoolhouse to a church with a million-dollar view, there’s a sign of something special at every one of the few turns in Clover Hill.
“It’s just a great place to be,” says Kenny Martin, the fire company’s president. “The quality of life is unlike any other place.”
Clover Hill is not all that far off the beaten path. It is minutes from any modern-day necessity, be it in the neighboring small town of Bridgewater or a few miles east in Harrisonburg.
While people might venture out of Clover Hill for the essentials, others flock to it for entertainment. For starters, there are the aforementioned Bucks of the Rockingham County Baseball League (RCBL), America’s second-oldest continuous summer baseball circuit behind only Major League Baseball. The RCBL began in 1924.
Clover Hill’s proximity to the George Washington National Forest also draws plenty of people looking for an outdoor adventure. Among its call volume, the Clover Hill Volunteer Fire Company frequently assists lost hikers and three or four times a year carries out injured mountain bikers, says Bob Shiflet, its treasurer, who like Martin has volunteered since the company began in 1981.
The company’s response area covers about 185 square miles, including some within the national forest. This creates the challenges that few other first responders have.
For example, volunteers emphasize being able to combat brush fires, so they have a compressed air foam system on many vehicles to shoot water longer distances. They also have a Hummer in their fleet for off-road search and rescue missions.
“I hate to use the term, but we’re ‘cutting edge’ on a lot of equipment,” Martin says.
The fire company includes a volunteer rescue squad, making it the only combined volunteer force in Rockingham County. It runs more than 700 calls a year with about 30 active volunteers, who are assisted during weekdays by two paid staffers from the Rockingham County Fire and Rescue Department.
“I like to feel like I’m doing something that amounts to something,” Shiflet says. “This is a hobby, kind of. I don’t play golf every weekend. This takes the place of getting hooked on golf.”
Martin adds: “It takes a special person to wake up at 2, 3 in the morning and go fight a fire or go up to a car wreck in the mountains. You feel like you’re actually doing something worthwhile.”
Speaking of making good use of one’s time, catching a Bucks game passes the test. Since the team was created in 1954, it has won 18 championships, including one in 2019.
“There’s a sense of history and prestige to winning the championship and having the team’s name on the trophy,” Cofer says.
At Buck Bowman Park, also known as the “Clover Dome,” fans claim their spots along the foul lines, in the outfield or in stands close enough to practically breath on the umpire’s neck. Talk about home-field advantage.
If the Bucks reach the RCBL playoffs, which they do quite often thanks to their prowess at home, attendance can swell to over 1,000 on a given night, says Fred Hill, the team’s assistant coach.
“The community takes great pride in its baseball club. It matters to them,” he says. “If we’re not doing well, we have to answer some tough questions. Expectations are always high.”
The general age range for RCBL players is 17 to 38. Hill equates the quality of play to at least lower-level college baseball. It has rising talent by way of local high schools and an inventory of former stars, one of whom made it to the sport’s biggest stage: Brian Bocock, who was the opening day starting shortstop for the San Francisco Giants a few years ago.
“For a 17-year-old kid, getting to play with someone who played in the majors, that’s cool,” says Cofer, who played college baseball at Virginia Military Institute.
The league’s Hall of Fame Museum is next to the park, within the Hall of Fame Sports Grill, aptly described as the “best bar in Clover Hill.” It’s also the only one.
The Bucks will look to toast a few more home victories when 2020 play begins in May.
“You’re never too old to play [in the RCBL] if you’re good enough, and you’re never too young if you’re good enough,” says Hill, a member of the RCBL Hall of Fame. “It’s a pretty good brand of baseball.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
The two backbones of the community — its baseball team and volunteer fire unit — have both benefitted from the Clover Hill Ruritan Club. The civic group formed in 1953, taking on a baseball park as one of its first projects, Shiflet says. Member Buck Bowman, a local man who sold farm machinery, had an “obsession” to bring night baseball to the community, an effort he successfully led for the baseball park that would later bear his name, according to a history written by Hill’s father, Bernelle.
In 1974, the Ruritan Club purchased 6 acres and established a community park of its own. In 1981, the club started the fire and rescue department and built its station at the Ruritan Park.
“The Ruritan Club has been a big factor in making Clover Hill what it is today,” Shiflet says.
More on Clover Hill’s history is eloquently recounted through Clover Hill United Methodist Church, which dates from 1886 when a board of trustees purchased an acre to build a place of worship.
“Urged, no doubt, by the interest and encouragement of eager members, the contractor and his workmen completed the building that same year,” according to a 100th anniversary publication cited on the church’s website. “The people wondered what to name their godly creation. It was suggested it be named for a beautiful field of clover adorning its hilltop location and thus ‘Clover Hill Church’ was born and became a community landmark for successive generations.”
The Rev. Sarah Bailey, who moved to Clover Hill in 2018, says Clover Hill UMC has “some of the nicest people you will ever meet” and she raves about the building’s view.
“When you come to the church, it feels like coming home to family,” she says. “The view from the church parking lot is probably one of the best in the valley. You can see across the whole county with almost a 360-degree view.”
Another local landmark is the Clover Hill School, which was constructed in 1915 and closed in 1958, serving grades first through seventh. A local couple, Bruce and Janet Harper, purchased the school in 2013 and has converted it into a private residence.
“It’s beautiful,” says Nancy Custer, a lifelong resident of Clover Hill. “It doesn’t look anything like it did when we went to school.”
At the time of the purchase, the school had long been abandoned and rundown. But in the spirit of being passionate and dedicated members of the Clover Hill community, the Harpers have fashioned a wonderfully restored structure, even making bookcases out of old stairs.
“The school just always appealed to me. I loved the windows,” Janet Harper says. “I always wanted a house with big windows. I could visualize the sun coming through.”
She admits there were some who thought the idea was “crazy.” The price to pay for living in her dream location was overcoming a few doubters.
So, yes, maybe the Valley can be just too picturesque for its own good. What a wonderful problem to have.
“It’s just a good place to live,” Janet Harper says of Clover Hill. “It’s out of town far enough. It’s pretty. I like the name. It’s just a nice little community.”