As the famous “Field of Dreams” line goes, “Build it and he will come.”
Marvin Drew can attest that the adage rings true.
Tucked away on farmland in Waverly — just off Route 460 and roughly 50 miles southeast of Richmond — is a setting that brings to mind the classic 1989 movie.
As one pulls into the property, a parcel of 130 acres, rigid cornstalks line either side of a dirt and gravel road. Above the towering crops is something one wouldn’t expect — a pair of football goalposts.
Keep going for roughly a quarter-mile and a regulation football field is revealed. Cornstalks line the far sideline and the end zone adjacent to the main road. White field paint marks yardage lines, on Kelly green grass.
A team dressed in gray football uniforms with purple, yellow and black trim runs through warm-up exercises.
Drew is the pastor of Lily of the Valley Deliverance Center, a church in Waverly that purchased the land almost four years ago for a variety of projects. The list includes a new church building but also athletic fields.
The football field is one of the first major projects completed. And after a chance encounter earlier this year — and because of limited field access elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the field has hosted multiple teams in a regional semipro football league: the East Coast Football Association.
Four EFCA teams have gathered at the field each of the past two Saturdays for doubleheader cards each day.
The environment makes for what feels like a football version of “Field of Dreams.”
“Very happy, very happy. I was just shocked,” Jerome Jackson, co-owner of the ECFA’s RVA Tomahawks, said of the field with a laugh. “I was shocked by where it’s sitting at. But they’ve taken good care of it. They’ve done a great job.”
Drew, a 57-year-old Sussex native, has been the pastor of Lily of the Valley Deliverance Center for about 21 years. The church’s current facility sits roughly 2 miles away from the 130-acre expanse where a new facility eventually will reside.
The land is part of what Drew referred to as a “dream” in itself. He has big plans for the property, which has farm roots. In addition to the football field, the church has completed a small outdoor amphitheater, which last summer hosted a concert by Richmond gospel group G.I. and this spring hosted a wedding.
Farther back on the property is a pond that Drew plans to try to develop into, perhaps, a five-acre space for recreation.
Elsewhere is a man-made pond that was at one time used for cattle. Almost concealed by trees is an small, brown two-story house that Drew would love to repair and turn into a camp house. The church has hosted a longtime, free summer camp for kids in the area. The past three years, before the coronavirus prevented it this year, the camp has been held on the 130-acre site.
There’s also a larger, white house that the church is looking at turning into additional facilities.
Then there’s the vision for athletic space. In addition to the football field, Drew wants to construct a baseball diamond and perhaps a gymnasium.
A motivating factor was the limited recreational opportunities for kids in the area.
“When it comes down to people really trying to get their dreams to come alive, we don’t have a whole lot to pull from like the Richmond community,” Drew said.
The football field — which kids previously used for soccer during the summer camp — was the first of the athletic projects on the list.
The goalposts were delivered this spring, and the driver happened to be Shawn Garris, a former semipro football player. Garris also is the defensive coordinator at Central International College in Chester.
“He said, ‘You got a nice field setup out here, and your field is looking good. So when you get your posts up, give me a call,’” Drew said. “He said, ‘I think I can hook something up.’”
Garris called Jackson, with whom he played. They went down and spoke with Drew.
“And we bonded,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s team has typically played on recreation and high school fields in Henrico and Chesterfield but didn’t have the typical access due to the pandemic. So Drew’s field was secured — rented for ECFA games.
The first set of games, on Aug. 22, featured the Virginia Ducks against the Hampton Roads Hurricanes at 1 p.m., then the Tomahawks versus the James River Wolfpack at 4 p.m.
This past Saturday, the Virginia Titans played the Virginia Crusaders at 1 p.m., then the Tomahawks and Ducks faced each other at 4 p.m.
At this past week’s day of play, light drizzle early gave way to sunshine as the afternoon progressed. Spectators included mostly family and friends. There are no bleachers yet, so some brought lawn chairs to sit at various spots around the field.
The church built a booth where a sound system is based in one day before the opening round of games. There is no scoreboard and clock, so periodic game updates came from an announcer. Gospel tracks played over the speakers otherwise.
The EFCA features 18 teams. Ten make up a Northern Division, with teams in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Eight teams are in the Southern Division, which includes the Virginia teams.
Many of the participants are former college players. The Crusaders’ Scorpio Brown, for example, played at Hampton and Morehouse, then played arena ball for 10 years. He’s currently the receivers coach at The Apprentice School.
“It’s just grown men coming together playing some tackle football,” Brown said of the ECFA. “Still have a love for the game. There’s [not] really dollars involved in this right here. It’s just a bunch of guys that’s willing to be disciplined and come together and still play football at an adult level.”
Players standing on the far sideline were dwarfed in height by the cornstalks — slightly more than 50 acres of the land is being leased to a farmer. The Crusaders’ quarterback at one point Saturday was forced out of bounds and into the cornstalks.
But the teams seemed grateful to have a place to play.
“This is awesome,” said the Tomahawks’ Daniel Barnes, who played at Clemson. “Usually if you get a grass field, you got potholes everywhere. Like they actually take care of their field.”
Jackson said the plan is to continue playing in Waverly. The seasons are typically eight games, then playoffs.
Drew built it, and now a whole segment of a league has come.
“Like you said, ‘Field of Dreams,’” Tomahawks linebacker Dwayne Wythe said. “Like, middle of the cornfield, find an opportunity for guys to come out here and have a little fun, play some football.”