A Team Effort and a Big Win
Jeff Keifer wears many hats: high school social studies teacher by day, baseball coach by night, dad 24/7.
As the head coach of the Westerville Central High School baseball team, Keifer had the opportunity to coach both of his sons when they were in high school. In fact, his sons were the ones who persuaded him to move to Central from neighboring rival Westerville North High School. At the time, Central’s baseball field was a “recruiting” tool that Coach Keifer used to draw players to North’s baseball team. But when he had the opportunity to teach and coach at the school where his sons and their friends were attending, the tables turned.
That was 2008. In 2021, Westerville Central received the Field of the Year award from the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association (OHSBCA). What happened to turn things around over those twelve seasons?
The story really began in 2003, when the high school was built in a northeastern suburb of Columbus. “Basically, the field was the last thing that was built when they were building Westerville Central,” Keifer said. “Westerville Central is a beautiful school. It’s a $45 million building, but this field was clearly an afterthought.”
“It was, by any standards, as bad as a field could be,” Keifer added. There was no electricity, scoreboard, concrete, dugouts, or batting cages. “It was basically just a field and a fence around it to prevent the balls from going into neighbors’ yards,” he said.
When Keifer was still coaching at North, he experienced the field conditions for himself whenever his team played an away game against Central. Recalling one rainy game there, he remembers seeing parents holding a tarp over their team as they sat on an aluminum bench.
That image proved to exemplify the supportive spirit of Central’s baseball community. It was parents who first came alongside Keifer to champion the field renovations when he started coaching at Central.
Because the field was so far below standards, renovations began with the basics. “We did a lot of work to get us just to be mediocre,” Keifer said. They started by adding dugouts and batting cages.
“We added all the external stuff just to get us to be where someone would come to the field and be like, ‘Oh, this is okay.’ Just to get us to that point was an enormous amount of work,” Keifer said. “But still, the field itself was just in such bad shape. It wasn’t level. It would hold water. It was unsightly and unsafe.” Bad hops and rainouts were common.
That’s where Advanced Turf Solutions came in. Another dad, Jim Hassel, reached out and connected with Brian French. “Brian came over and looked at things and said, ‘These are some suggestions.’ And we took the presentation to the board, and the school board approved the process,” Keifer said. The board even approved the addition of a practice field next to the varsity field.
Keifer was afraid the board would go for a low-budget landscape bid that was far less professional. So he was pleasantly surprised when the district went with French’s proposed renovations, which included laser grading and a Kentucky bluegrass infield.
The district’s backing paid off. “We get compliments from everybody,” Keifer said. “And once you get on the field, it feels like a professional field.”
He explained that the renovations created the right playing surface, bounce, and rigidity. “It’s just a perfect playing surface,” Keifer said. The professional results from ATS far exceeded expectations.
French’s support throughout the process helped make the project so successful. “He was the one that was always returning phone calls, always reaching out to us first, always meeting us at the field, spending extra time with us,” Keifer said.
Although Hassel got the ball rolling, he and Keifer weren’t the only ones invested in the project. “We’ve kind of had the vision for it, but there are parents and coaches that have been out on these countless workdays. I mean, we couldn’t have done it without them,” Keifer said.
The massive renovations required all the help they could get. “It was basically an entire rebuild from where the infield dirt meets the outfield grass,” Keifer said. “Everything from that in toward the back of the fence was literally completely redone.”
“So we took out all of the infield grass and took out 90% of the grass between the baselines and the dugout,” Keifer added. “Home plate was redone with new clay batter’s boxes and leveled. And a brand new pitcher’s mound, which is another huge project. It just kind of is a focal point of the field too.”
From a source of discouragement to a source of pride, the transformation was gradual but remarkable. “The kids rave about the playing surface,” Keifer said. “I mean, they just absolutely love it. They used to just kind of get nervous and not know what hops to expect. And now they’ve been able to relax. It’s just so consistent and even.”
Team morale has also improved with the quality of the field. Keifer describes that when he started coaching at Central, “the players that were here were embarrassed.” Now, after more than a decade of hard work, “they have pride about the field that they’re playing on.” These days, players eagerly help with field maintenance, picking up rakes and leaf blowers after games without even being asked.
For Keifer, the quality of the field means fewer maintenance headaches. “I used to drive by the field, and I could gauge whether we were playable or not on how many puddles were out there,” he said. “And now I can’t do that because it’s so level. I have to actually go out and walk it to see if it’s playable.”
The Field of the Year award validated all of the time, energy, and resources the community had given to the baseball facility. “Just the thought of all that work and time rewarded from all of our parents and coaches over the years—it was really a very, very fulfilling honor,” Keifer said. To be named the Field of the Year out of all of the high schools in Ohio is no small feat.
Congratulations to Coach Keifer and the entire Westerville Central baseball community!