Photo: Callee Bradley, 17, a junior at Winchester-Thurston, works on the bleachers on Tuesday afternoon in a North Braddock ballfield. Heritage Community Initiatives has received several grants, including $25,000 from the Buhl Foundation and $5,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, to rehabilitate the field that was built in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Justin Merriman, Tribune-Review.
On a warm, sunny day in North Braddock, teenagers painted to the rhythm of music while mouthing lyrics spoken by Kanye West.
The rapper's song "Power" blared from speakers hooked to the iPhone of Michael Curry, 17.
He and 39 other students, mostly juniors and seniors at Winchester Thurston School, a private school in Shadyside, let hip-hop tunes inspire them on Tuesday as they pulled weeds; replaced rickety, wooden bleachers; scraped grease and dirt from a worn-out concession stand; painted walls; cut down trees; and did other chores to rehabilitate a nearly century-old ballfield at the corner of Jones Avenue and Anderson Street.
Used by the North Braddock Little League and Braddock Falcons youth football, the ballfield is the only one in North Braddock, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, had a 2010 poverty rate of 23.6 percent, compared to the Allegheny County and state rates of 12.3 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively. Adjacent Braddock Borough doesn't have a field at all.
Heritage Community Initiatives, a Braddock nonprofit that serves the Mon Valley, has collected about $42,000 in donations, including $25,000 from the Buhl Foundation and $5,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, to help renovate the field.
The property used to be part of the former Alexander M. Scott High School. The North Braddock Little League bought the closed school and surrounding land in 1988, and the school was demolished in 1995.
The ballfield fell into disrepair because the league could not afford to maintain it, said Ken Hodges, league president. The outpouring of help is appreciated, he said.
"I've never seen so many people step up to help," Hodges said.
Winchester Thurston junior Callee Bradley, 17, used a power tool to remove rusty screws and bolts from cracked, wooden bleachers that will be replaced.
"They just really need help making it better, making it something the whole community can rally around," the Fox Chapel resident said of her reason for volunteering.
The project began about two months ago and will take about two years and more fundraising before it is complete, but volunteers from Winchester Thurston, PNC Bank, United Healthcare and other groups are working to improve the appearance and safety of the field as much as they can now, said Miles Loewy, manager of community engagement for Heritage.
The hope is that the field will be renovated to allow other sports, such as soccer and rugby, to be played there by teams willing to rent the space, creating a revenue source for regular field maintenance, he said.
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