Crown celebrates decade of helping inspire competition

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In conversation, Bill Hearne is a humble man who’s quick to credit his staff at Crown Sports Center for successful day-to-day operations.

As a boy, he didn’t even have a baseball mitt, until an aunt bought one for him. It allowed him to get involved in sports, a life-changing experience of not only enjoyment and exercise, but of the valuable lessons good sportsmen learn.

Years later, when he bought the expansive building that once housed Crown, Cork & Seal in Eden, he wanted to give a new generation that opportunity.

At first, he thought about using the 176,000-square-foot building — 4 acres under one roof — as a packing house for produce, which had been his career.

Much to the happiness of thousands of people over the past decade, Hearne eventually settled on building a sports center.

“I did it to help kids. I played little league baseball. Sports were good for me. They really were. When I bought it, there was nothing around, just one small place that had one soccer court,” Hearne said.

Crown Sports Center celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. An open house was held to offer free events — from laser tag to rock climbing — to the public, both to celebrate and to honor Hearne.

“The building was so big, you know, that we just made the front commercial offices. Then, somebody approached me about soccer fields. It was right on my dining room table that we planned it out. Now, there are offices in the front and … there’s an early learning center. The sports center has a skating rink. There are five turf fields. It’s laid out like a street scene all the way down,” he explained.

There are a concession area, arcade, party rooms, batting cage, volleyball courts and reception room with large dance floor. About 100 teams play on seven soccer field outdoors in the back. Others play field hockey and lacrosse.

Gary Mackes, former director of the county’s recreation and parks department, praised Hearne for enriching the quality of life in Wicomico County said Hearne has a soft spot in his heart for youth.

“I think it really has improved the quality of life, especially in the winter. Where can kids go? What can they do?” Hearne said.

“It provided a need. We have dog shows here and all kinds of activities. There really is something for everybody,” Hearne said.

“Somebody helped me when I was growing up, so I thought I would do the same thing. I wanted to help kids. I wanted to keep them off the street.”

When Crown Cork & Seal Co. announced in 2002 that it would close the mammoth specialty-packing facility as part of a string of corporate consolidation moves, the Fruitland community was taken aback by the news.

Just up Route 13 in Salisbury, Dresser-Wayne had announced months before it would close its manufacturing plant; the loss of two large production facilities — and all of the jobs they offered — was an economic blow.

“Losing Crown Cork & Seal during an era that also saw the closing of Campbell’s Soup and Dresser Wayne was a devastating blow to the region’s economy,” said Rick Pollitt, who was Fruitland City Manager when Crown Cork closed.

“Thankfully, Bill Hearne recognized a need for enhanced sports activities for youth and created the jewel we enjoy today,” he said.

Pollitt, who went on to serve as Wicomico’s first County Executive, said the center and the land that surrounds it has a continuing role to play.

“Personally, I would love to see someone acquire the vacant field south of Crown and develop it to expand or complement the great work going on there.”

Today the Dresser site is an empty field, and it is presumed that Salisbury University will one day construct a major building there. Crown, meanwhile, is bustling with activity every day, as hundreds of youngsters, parents and adults use the facility for a variety of activities.

The state-of-the-art aspects of Crown Sports Center are impressive: five indoor turf fields, one multi-surface court, two volleyball courts, batting cages, and — outside — 10.5 acres of Bermuda grass outdoor fields.

The complex is a haven for anyone who participates in lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, flag football, baseball or softball.

Crown Sports also offers adult and youth sport leagues, including sports camps and clinics featuring some of this country’s top college coaches.

During the fall and winter, Crown Sports is a weekend family destination, offering youth and adult sports leagues, sports clinics, child care, toddler programs, skating, laser tag, arcade and parties galore.

During summer, it becomes one of the East Coast’s largest indoor and outdoor summer day camps — it is the only camp to feature 5 acres of air-conditioned sports fields.

The Camp Crown “Ultimate Summer Camp Experience” lasts 11 weeks each summer for kids age 4 to 12.

Children participate in a wide range of daily activities like sports, science, reading, arts and crafts, cheer, dancing and photography.

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Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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