Before passing away in March at the age of 54, John “Tommy” Rucker Jr. pushed for the installation of protective netting at the Harrisburg Elementary School baseball complex.
Though no one was ever seriously injured by a stray foul ball, the longtime Harrisburg Community Youth Association coach worried that it was just a matter of time before a preventable injury would occur.
Those close to Mr. Rucker said he would be pleased to learn that crews with Carolina Sports Concepts of Mooresville this week finished installing new safety netting around the four-field complex, offering protection to spectators and players waiting to take the diamond. The netting is situated near the concession stand, and encloses most of the area between the building and the eight dugouts serving the four fields.
“Tommy advocated for these nets for many years as he was always concerned for the safety of the kids, and their families, while at the ballfields,” said Town Councilman Ron Smith, who lived in the same neighborhood as Mr. Rucker since 2005.
Earlier this year, the Town Council allocated the required funding for the $34,000 net installation, which was supplemented by more than $2,400 in donations made in the memory of Mr. Rucker, according to Harrisburg Parks and Recreation Director Daniel Stines.
Linda Rucker, Mr. Rucker’s wife of 26 years, requested monetary donations in lieu of flowers when her husband passed away last winter.
Carolina Sport Concepts knocked approximately $10,000 off the installation price after learning the reason why the town opted to install the netting, Mr. Stines said.
Mr. Rucker coached youth baseball and basketball for over 35 years, instructing more than 300 boys and girls over that time, according to his obituary. He began coaching in the Harrisburg Community Youth Association when his two sons, John and William, were old enough to play organized ball. He would serve as a coach for the association, which has since been absorbed by Parks and Recreation, for 15 years.
Mr. Rucker continued coaching well after his children aged out of the recreation league.
“He coached so long that he was coaching against coaches that he coached as kids,” said Harrisburg Mayor Steve Sciascia, the last president of the Harrisburg Community Youth Association.
“We felt like it would be a good thing for the community, and a great thing to do for Tommy’s family,” he added, referring to the new nets.
The mayor said council members had considered installing the netting a few years back, but held off due to the estimated $50,000 cost. Mr. Sciascia and other town officials expressed their appreciation for the discount offered by Carolina Sports Concepts.
“I think most will tell you these nets are a great tribute, but deep down we would rather just have one more game with Coach Tommy,” Mr. Smith said. “Tommy touched many lives between basketball and baseball, and taught many kids how to love the game and how to have fun while playing the game.”