Vicksburg High’s Softball Swamp earns national field of the year award

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Five years ago, the Vicksburg High softball team needed a place to take batting practice after a string of rainy days left Bazinsky Park unusable.

Coach Brian Ellis got permission from the city to use a nearly forgotten field on Army Navy Drive and, while there, started to form an idea — instead of packing up and heading across town every day, why not convert this place into the Missy Gators’ new home?

“The city had cut it and kept it up. The woods were grown over. We hit a lot of balls into the woods. But when we did that, I said this could be done,” Ellis said. “If we keep worrying about why it couldn’t happen, we’re never going to get it done.”

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Five years later, “The Softball Swamp” has become everything Ellis envisioned and more. The facility that now includes a covered batting cage, press box and chairback seats — a lot of it built through donations and volunteer labor — has been named the national high school Field of the Year by the National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association and Turface Athletics.

“(Assistant) Coach Hugh (Guest) and I do a lot of work to maintain it, but we’ve had a lot of help from the City of Vicksburg, the school district and our parents,” Ellis said. “This award is for everybody who helped give our girls a home. I know how much people have helped us to get this done. I called them after we got this award and thanked them all, because without it this wouldn’t have happened. It’s recognizing not just our program, but Vicksburg and the state of Mississippi.”

In the spring of 2013, the Softball Swamp largely resembled an actual swamp. Located down the street from the city’s other slow-pitch fields, it was maintained but rarely used.

That changed once Ellis got his hands on it. A horde of volunteers and parents of players went to work in the fall of 2013 to clear brush and cut back trees. A new outfield fence was put up and painted green and the playing surface got some better dirt and grass.

The field was ready for the spring 2014 fast-pitch season.

“Everything we’ve done is for our student-athletes,” Ellis said. “They deserve to have their own home. Our reward is that they get excited about having their own place.”

Since it opened, the Softball Swamp has seen regular upgrades. A covered batting cage, press box, scoreboard and improved seating were all added. There are plans to add a fieldhouse and artificial turf to the field, as well as some drainage and lighting work. Fences and the dugouts — the latter of which has also been covered — are just about the only original items left.

The field has hosted several college games. Alcorn State and Kentucky State will play a doubleheader there on Feb. 15, the third year in a row they’ve done that. It’s the mark of a top field not just in the state, but in the country, and something Ellis is proud of.

“It was cool, but it humbles you a little bit. You’re finally getting some recognition on how much work you’re putting into softball,” Ellis said. “To be the national field of the year is mind-boggling.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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