All across rural America, youth baseball and football teams can play night games thanks to electric cooperatives.
Co-ops get involved because they know how to set and climb poles and have aerial lifts on their trucks. Often, they are the only company in the county with the right equipment and skills.
Typically, a municipality or a civic group pays for the equipment and materials, and the co-op volunteers its trucks and lineworkers. Sometimes, a donation from a co-op community improvement fund pays for the out-of-pocket costs.
Two decades ago, Berkeley Electric Cooperative in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, did much more than install lighting on a field. It donated the land for the ball field and then helped develop it.
What once was inaccessible land behind the co-op's headquarters became a state-of-the-art baseball field, with a backstop, dugouts, an electronic scoreboard, announcer's booth, a picnic shelter, restrooms and field lights.
"An amazing amount of work has gone into this, but I believe the field's value to the community has made it well worth all the time and effort," Berkeley Electric CEO Ervin "Skip" Strickland said at the time in 2003.
"Skip is the one who made this happen," said John West, a Santee Cooper Power official who had five baseball-playing sons. "He had the energy and the vision behind the project." (Santee Cooper is a state-owned utility that supplies wholesale power to Berkeley Electric through its G&T, Central Electric Power Cooperative.)
"The community has grown a lot over the years," West continued. "We were really struggling to find sufficient areas for our young people to practice and play on. Berkeley stepped up at a time we needed them most."
The idea for a new ball field came about in the early 1990s, when the co-op was building a new access road to its pole yard. For the first time, this part of the co-op's property was accessible to a major public road, the Highway 52 bypass.
With several co-op employees serving as coaches for youth baseball leagues, it's no surprise that the lot was eyed as a good spot for a new practice field. The Moncks Corner Recreation Department welcomed the idea and helped the co-op design the field.
More than 60 co-op employees volunteered to help build the field. Fencing, poles and other materials left over from substation construction were used to save money. What began as a practice field later grew into a first-rate venue for league games.
The field was also home to the Berkeley Electric Cooperative Softball Jamboree, an annual fundraising event for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
"One of the reasons this field has been so successful is the partnership that exists between the co-op, its employees and the community," said John Villeponteaux, assistant vice president of outside operations for Berkeley Electric. "I have seen many fields fall into disrepair, but because of our partnership with our employees and the Moncks Corner Recreation Department, who help maintain the field, Berkeley Electric Field remains a first-class facility."
Berkeley Electric, the largest co-op in South Carolina with more than 122,000 meters in three counties, continued this partnership in 2020 when it donated $15,000 toward building a Miracle League baseball field for disabled youth in Moncks Corner.