The conversation that set in motion Colonial Beach’s newest attraction took place nearly 900 miles away in Clearwater, Fla.

Former longtime Colonial Beach baseball and basketball coach Steve Swope visits Clearwater every year to follow his beloved Philadelphia Phillies during spring training.

Colonial Beach native Torrey Smith signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in March 2017 and was invited by the Phillies to throw the first pitch at an exhibition game.

“All I can say is divine intervention took place to allow Torrey Smith to come to the Philadelphia Eagles for one year of his career,” Swope said.

Swope was Smith’s youth league coach and physical education teacher at Colonial Beach Elementary School.

In Clearwater, he informed his former pupil that the blacktop Smith played hoops on as a youngster was no longer in existence. It had been destroyed in January 2014, when the town’s former high school that abutted the courts was set ablaze.

There had been no effort to replace them.

Smith was perplexed and immediately sprang into action.

The Stafford High School graduate went on social media and pledged nearly $200,000 of his own money so youth in the small town can have a similar experience he enjoyed while growing up.

In the two-plus years since that chance encounter, Swope, through fundraisers and assistance from many stakeholders in the community, raised an additional $250,000 to make Torrey Smith Recreation Park a reality.

A grand opening was held Tuesday as approximately 400 people gathered at the park, which features two full-length basketball courts, two tennis/pickleball courts, a playground and a pavilion.

Smith now plays wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, but the park has purple picnic tables and benches that were donated by a fan of the team that drafted him in 2011—the Baltimore Ravens.

The park is located at 315 Lynnhaven Ave. at Water Tower Field, which previously held Little League baseball games and was the home field for the high school’s baseball team prior to 1970. Smith and the community regularly used the site for the town’s Turkey Bowl—an annual Thanksgiving morning football game.

“It’s huge to be able to give back to where I’m from,” Smith said. “Being from Colonial Beach, the blacktop was something I grew up on … Knowing that in the town they had no real place to play, it was really disturbing. So it was something that I said, if I’ve got to put my own money into it to make it happen, then let’s do it.”

The community expressed gratitude on Tuesday as residents enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones and ice cream. Some played cornhole while kids hopped around in a moon bounce as a DJ added to the atmosphere.

Town Mayor Eddie Blunt told the crowd that “bigger and better” is coming to Colonial Beach “and this is just a start.”

A coed alumni basketball game between rivals Colonial Beach High and Washington & Lee was the first organized contest on the courts. Players wore T-shirts that read: “Torrey Smith Rec Park. Take Care of Home.”

“We wanted the community to know that everybody is welcome—Colonial Beach, all of Westmoreland and the surrounding communities,” said Colonial Beach boys basketball coach Keith Dickerson, who organized the game. “You never thought you would see anything like this. But if anybody would do it, it would definitely be Torrey. He loves home.”

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Smith reflected on his upbringing in Colonial Beach, where he lived before his family moved to Stafford County. Smith talked about dribbling a basketball from the Riverwood Apartment complex to the town’s blacktop.

He said he wants other kids to have an opportunity to blossom into stars like him and fellow Westmoreland County native Chris Johnson (former NBA), Justin Anderson (NBA) and T.T. Carey (overseas basketball).

Smith noted that his family wasn’t financially well off and the courts provided a refuge. Smith is the eldest of seven children (one deceased). He was a caretaker for his six siblings and his mother, Monica Richards, as a youngster.

“This is definitely him,” Richards said of her son contributing to the opening of the park. “This has been him since he was 3 or 4 years old. He came up as a fighter. He always took care of his siblings, he took care of me, and now he’s taking care of everybody else. It’s all God’s plan.”

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Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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