City being lapped in youth sports facilities

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2011

By the end of 2006, Vicksburg became a youth baseball hub. A story in the Dec. 19 edition of The Vicksburg Post highlights an upcoming baseball season with state and select tournaments. A Cal Ripken Jr. Southwest Regional tournament — with teams from seven surrounding states — was billed as the crown jewel of all local tournaments.

Days after the tournament’s completion, Southwest Regional Director Robert Freeman of Crossett, Ark., lambasted the city’s efforts.

“I’ve seen things here I’ve not seen in over 20 years of doing this,” he said. “The biggest thing has been the public address system. They haven’t had one. They were able to do one game on Friday and then our opening ceremonies, and that’s it. We’ve had no national anthem, no invocation, and no public address for any game since Friday night.”

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Vicksburg has not hosted a regional tournament since. And likely won’t for some time. Youth tournaments, with the exception of the Vicksburg Baseball Association’s Governor’s Cup, are no longer coming to Vicksburg with the depth and scope they once did. Cities larger and smaller than ours have built mammoth recreation complexes that now far exceed the quality of the aging Halls Ferry Park.

Halls Ferry Park had its day, like the first malls to be built. The excitement of a new mall dies out when a neighboring community builds a bigger one. Eventually that bigger mall is outdone by an outdoor mall, with more shops and more access. That has happened here with youth baseball. We have been lapped by the likes of Tupelo, New Albany, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Madison and Southaven.

Snowden Grove Park in Southaven has hosted, or will host, 15 tournaments — including two national World Series events — this summer.

Halls Ferry is small. The fields are spread apart. Parking can be a logistical nightmare. It has outlived its usefulness.

Plans have been circulating for years for a modern, state-of-the-art recreation complex. One plan called for the transformation of Halls Ferry into a youth sports hub. That plan stalled and the city is still in legal wranglings trying to secure money it put up front for an initial feasibility study.

Another plan called for a tract of land on Fisher Ferry Road near St. Michael Catholic Church to be turned into a rec complex. Some work began there, but money set aside for the rec facility had to be shifted in order to replace an aging and unsafe railroad bridge on Washington Street at Clark. The safety of a bridge on one of Vicksburg’s main north-south thoroughfares rightfully trumped a recreation complex.

But Vicksburg’s lack of a quality recreation complex is forcing local teams to fill other towns’ coffers instead of the hotels and restaurants here getting their due.

In four years, Vicksburg has fallen from a youth baseball hub to just another town with an aging rec facility.

Four years.