The is perhaps the best ball field in the best baseball and softball town in Connecticut.
It has an infield infused with stone dust, so it puddles less and dries quicker than any other Waterford field. It has an irrigation system, a playground for kids to play named after a Waterford legend, new dugouts, an electric scoreboard and now, a full men and women's bathroom with hot water. And all of that work was done by an army of volunteers, who donated time, supplies and money to make it happen.
Saturday, there was a dedication ceremony for the completion of the bathrooms to thank all the people who helped make the field happen. And there was also a lot of reflection on the two people the field is named after, Lisa Dedrick and Gene Sutera, who represented everything Waterford is about: the dominant, fun-loving young softball player and the never-at-rest, willing-to-do-anything-for-the-community softball dad.
“They were both great people,” said Lisa Dedrick’s stepfather, Stewart Clark, in his speech at the dedication ceremony Saturday. “And I think they would be very happy.”
Growing up, Dedrick was a dominant softball player, similar to a Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly: a clutch hitter, a team leader and one of the best fielding first basemen anybody had ever seen. She also, according to everybody who knew her, was a fun-loving person, who people instantly loved and gravitated toward.
Dedrick gained a scholarship to play softball at Sacred Heart University, and there formed a tight bond with her teammates. But all that ended on May 25, 1990, when she died in a car crash.
“It was tragic,” friend Bippy Luckie said.
Her mother and stepfather, Mary Ann Clark and Stewart Clark, along with her softball teammates knew they had to do something. So her teammates joined together to raise money, first with a softball game and then with the Lisa Dedrick Memorial Golf Tournament, which they originally used to give out scholarships to Waterford High School graduates.
But as the years went by, the Clarks began to use that money to improve Dedrick's old field, Cohanzie Field, which they eventually turned into a field strictly used for women’s softball. They raised money to pull the fences in, replace the dugouts, put in a new scoreboard and on and on.
Right in the middle of that effort was Gene Sutera, one of Waterford’s most dedicated volunteers, especially for youth sports. Sutera was so often in the Waterford Recreation and Parks Department finding ways to improve the fields, people thought he was an employee there, Stewart Clark said.
“They thought he worked there, he was there so much,” said Clark, laughing.
Sutera was one of those rare people who didn’t just talk about big ideas, but made big ideas happen, Recreation and Parks Program Coordinator Kerry Sullivan said. He was even instrumental of changing the name of Cohanzie Field to Lisa Dedrick Memorial Park.
But one day in July of 2003, that all stopped. Sutera had a heart attack while he was bringing a gas grill to where else, the Lisa Dedrick Memorial Field, and died.
After the death, the community knew it now had to honor two of its fallen. So with some help from O & G Industries, the playground at Quaker Hill School, which was going to be destroyed, was moved to Lisa Dedrick Memorial Park, and it was named after Sutera.
With Sutera gone, somebody else had to lead the charge to get all the volunteers it was going to take to build bathrooms at the field. That void was filled with Mary Ann Clark and Sullivan, Stewart Clark said.
The effort to build the bathrooms was huge, and so many people helped, Stewart Clark said. It all began with Dedrick’s old softball friends continuing to raise funds two decades of Dedrick died through the Lisa Dedrick Memorial Golf Tournament, Clark said.
Then the community came together to build the bathrooms, Clark said. John Quinn managed the project, Ed Bartelli put in the plumbing, Tom Dembeck did the electrical, Nando Dazzi connected the sewer line, Jim Dedrick put in the tile floor, and on and on, all for free, he said.
“It was unbelievable,” Clark said. “Every time I turned around, somebody else was volunteering something. I really can’t believe how many people came in and helped.”
Just as an example, Sullivan went to buy flowers at the day before the ceremony on Saturday to put around a recently-installed bench at the field honoring all the people who helped build the bathrooms. Sullivan told the person at the counter what it was for, and they were given to her for free, she said.
“It has just been like that the whole time,” Sullivan said.
Finally, on Saturday a ceremony was held with a crowd of about 70 in attendance to celebrate the completion of the bathroom, the last big project at Lisa Dedrick Memorial Park. After 22 years of fundraising by Dedrick's old friends and dozens of volunteers like Sutera improving the grounds, the park was now perhaps the best in all of Waterford.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Mary Ann Clark said Saturday. “I am just very proud that so many people thought so much of (Lisa Dedrick).”