Deterioration irks Mission park proponent

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 5, 2009

Ernest Galloway walked around the bedraggled baseball field and crumbling basketball courts at Mission 66 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard recalling the years he spent coaching youth sports at the city park.

“The kids loved it. It was more than sports. We would talk to them about what was going on in their lives, tell them to keep their grades up and stay in school,” said Galloway, a Vicksburg native and lifelong resident. “There’s nothing like that anymore for the kids in this neighborhood, and it’s a crying shame.”

It’s been 20 years since Galloway coached at Mission Park, and nearly a decade since organized teams used the fields regularly. Nowadays, the basketball courts are uneven, chipped and cracked, and Galloway had to kick aside shards of broken beer bottles as he pointed out the damage. Meanwhile, the baseball field is home to a thriving community of ants; their castles towering higher than the pitcher’s mound in places.

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Galloway hopes to bring league play back to the baseball field and basketball courts, and he’s been pushing Mayor Paul Winfield to make a significant investment in Mission Park.

“Paul campaigned on the promise to expand recreation, but we’re not seeing that happen,” said Galloway, who volunteered to knock on doors for Winfield during his campaign this summer and was later appointed to the new Mayor’s Youth Coalition Committee.  “This is the first chance he’s had to do that, and it’s an area that needs it the most.”

Galloway’s pleas have not gone unnoticed by the mayor and aldermen. A city crew was working at the park last week, trimming back overgrown shrubs and trees that had crawled onto one of the basketball courts and over the dilapidated concession stand.

“I understand his passion, and my passion is just as great, but we have got to be smart about this,” said Winfield. “We’re going to be doing some work out there, but we have got to crawl before we can start running. I’m a product of those fields, too, and youth activities are a top priority for me.”

Mission Park is one of a half-dozen or more its size around the city. There are also smaller playgrounds and larger complexes at City Park and Halls Ferry Park. For five years, the city has been taking steps toward adding a showcase park on Fisher Ferry.

Funding for recreation is down in this year’s city budget, but Winfield said city crews will be renovating the concession stand at Mission Park, patching the basketball courts and relining the baseball field. He expects the work will be completed by the spring, in time for baseball season.

Galloway said he’s glad to see some plans are being made for renovations, but maintained trimming back bushes, repairing the concession stand and patching the courts are not enough. He’s submitted his own proposal for park renovations, which include resurfacing both basketball courts and installing bleachers, benches, signs, better lighting and a pavilion, among other repairs. He sees the well-manicured grounds of Halls Ferry Park and the sports complex for which land is being cleared off Fisher Ferry Road and wonders why the kids in the North Ward don’t have equal facilities.

“The kids who live in the neighborhoods around here don’t have transportation to Halls Ferry Park or the new park being built, and there’s nothing for them to do around here but get in trouble” he said, noting the juvenile crime rate is nearly double that of just one year ago. “They need this park.”

One reason the facilities are not equal, said South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman — who was parks and recreation department director for eight years before being elected in 2001 — is because vandals have consistently undone every attempt to clean up Mission Park. Since 1993, Beauman estimated the park has been renovated and repaired at least three times, and each time the progress has been thwarted.

“I’m talking about destruction for the sake of being destructive. We had to lock the bathrooms because the toilets and sinks were getting ripped off the wall. They even ripped off the electric meter once. At one point the police asked us to quit replacing the light bulbs out there because they were getting broken out as fast as we could put them in,” Beauman said. “And it’s not the kids who are doing it.”

Beauman agrees with Galloway: the North Ward needs more recreational facilities for its youth. He said he supports Galloway’s efforts to give back to his community, but stressed Galloway needs strong support from those who live around Mission Park in order for it to mirror the successes at Halls Ferry Park.

“It takes a community,” said Beauman. “The city is never going to be successful in running any sports league all by itself. There needs to be adult supervision and parental involvement to make it work. The only reason the leagues at Halls Ferry Park are successful is because the parents are involved. We have expended a tremendous amount of money at Mission Park and we have not been successful because we haven’t had the community support.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at