• 72°

Softball tourneys at BRD Sportsplex boost local economy

A broiling summer sun frowns upon the Hansel King Sportsplex,making the grass wither and the four infields concrete-hard. Atfirst glance, it doesn’t look too appealing. On a dead weekend,imagine tumbleweeds rolling across the landscape. Only a chain linkfence impedes their progress.

At second glance, the Sportsplex’s financial appeal resemblesthe green color of dollar bills, thousands of them. It should makelocal businessmen jump up and take notice. There are hundreds ofthousands of potential dollars to be made, dollars that can givethe ailing local economy a shot in the arm.

The lucrative cash I.V. is provided by girls fastpitch softballtournaments. Last weekend was a prime example as one individual,Jaymie Palmer, directed a 25-team, double-elimination tournament atthe Sportsplex. Palmer estimated between 1,500-2000 folks werepresent at various times during the 3-day tournament that beganFriday evening.

Saturday’s rain showers delayed the conclusion of the tournamentuntil Sunday night at 11:20. The tourney included teams fromMississippi and Alabama in four age divisions: 8-under, 10-under,12-under and 14-under.

Imagine the amount of liquids, food and sunscreen that weredoled out. Imagine the number of motel rooms that were rented andthe number of meals consumed by the visitors to the HomeseekersParadise. Most folks eat three meals a day. Others eat four.

Tax dollar revenue from the sale of gasoline, tires andincidentals boosts the economy.

The Sportsplex is approximately 20 years old. Once upon a time,slowpitch softball was the rage for young and old alike. Nowadays,few adults pursue that sport. Fastpitch has grown in leaps andbounds, especially among the school-age girls.

Terry Reid, who replaced the late Hansel King, serves asdirector of the Brookhaven City Parks & Recreation Department.He’s a busy man and it’s a full-time job that covers all aspects ofrecreation, indoors and outdoors. The Sportsplex provides playingfields for soccer and flag football, too.

The BRD is governed by a board of directors: Willie “Doc”Harrison, Matt Shell, Deedee Henning, Robert Kenny and chairmanWoody Breeland.

For obvious reasons, the BRD board was separated from citygovernment. It helps remove any backroom politics from creating anest of discord.

Harrison, a longtime coach and educator in the Brookhaven schoolsystem, said he would welcome an aggressive recruiting approach.”It sounds like a good idea. I’m definitely in favor of helping thelocal economy.”

Shell, a former BHS baseball player, now has a daughter playingfastpitch on the high school level. It’s not unusual for his familyto travel to Louisiana and Alabama for weekend tournamentaction.

“If you could get 25-30 teams in Brookhaven for a tournament, itwould be a tremendous benefit to our economy,” said Shell.

However, the Sportsplex needs some updating. Foul balls off afastpitch aluminum bat have been known to break out windows in thepress box. BRD program director Karen Harveston said large wingsneed to be attached to the sides of the backstop to deflect thosefoul balls. Another alternative would be increasing the size andoverhang of the backstops.

It’s a fairly small expense to improve the facility when youcompare it to the number of dollars that would be generated by a20-30 team tournament.

The Sportsplex fields have 300-foot fences that easilyaccommodate softball games. Playing a baseball game would require alarger base path distance from 60 to 90 feet, plus a pitchingmound.

“It’s a shame we don’t use the Sportsplex for more baseballactivities,” observed a former city employee. “We are missing theboat in not having a facility with the capacity to host baseballtournaments.”

Brookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner said the Sportsplex shouldprovide an attractive appeal to potential tournaments. Many citiesbend over backwards to please and entice state and regionaltournament directors from different softball associations.

The Chamber of Commerce often takes an active role in therecruiting process.

“It’s hard to attract some of these big tournaments because theykeep going back to the same location every year,” said Bumgarner.”We have to keep on trying and make it attractive here.”

Bumgarner, a former BHS football coach, said it requires a teameffort by the city and the county. “You have to make a concentratedeffort. We encourage Terry and the board to do everything possibleto attract more tournaments.”

Palmer said he was pleased with the participation in lastweekend’s tournament. “I think it was good for the community andgreat competition for our local teams. We appreciate all the localpeople who turned out and supported it.”

Obviously, local businesses also appreciate the tournaments.Parents, grandparents and friends followed their favorite teams tothe Sportsplex. They also spent lots of money in Brookhaven andmoney is the bottom line.

Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by email:tgoetz@dailyleader.com