Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

SPORTS>>Sherwood Sports Complex back in business

Leader sportswriter

Perhaps nothing will better signify the resurrection of the Sherwood Sports Complex than the sound of bats hitting balls this weekend.

The Cal Ripken 7-8 year-old state tournament gets under way this Friday, just three months after storms ripped through the complex and left it in a shambles.

The April 3 storms tore up fencing and lighting all through the park, causing thousands of dollars of damage, and completely destroying the high school/American Legion field. That field still remains unplayable.

Little League and softball action returned to the fields on May 29, but this weekend’s state tourney will be the first major event since the storms.

Preparation for the 7-8 year-old pitching-machine tournament was still ongoing early this week. Finishing touches were being put on the new fencing around various fields, and more than 25 volunteers worked over the weekend checking for debris, picking up trash and filling up holes on six fields that will be used.

Normally, only four fields are used for Cal Ripken play, but the tournament will also use two T-ball fields for the 48-team event will help move play along, particularly in the 16-game first round that begins on Friday at 9 a.m.

Former Sylvan Hills/Sherwood Optimist Club president Mike Sanders, who is still working closely with current president Troy Hayes, said that even with all the progress that has been made, thereis still much more work to be done.

“It’s been a major task,” Sanders said. “From new fencing, to replacing most of the backstops, to roofs on the dugouts and resetting and re-aiming the lights, there’s been a lot to repair or replace.”

The progress on the park cleanup has been steady, especially considering park employees and volunteers lost a lot of time immediately following the storm while insurance adjusters evaluated the damage and safety crews made the area safe for cleanup.

“There’s still a lot more to be done,” Sanders said. “On the boys side, we have a couple of tournaments coming up at the end of July. That’s a work in progress, but we have three good weeks to get ready.”

Although the storm damage was a significant setback for the park, the long-term results will be an improved and upgraded facility. The old wooden light poles will be replaced with more modern lights using a concrete foundation. Two softball fields will be converted to youth baseball diamonds.

While work continues to revamp the youth fields, one of the biggest undertakings by the parks and recreation department will be the rebuilding of Kevin McReynold’s Field, the home of both the Sylvan Hills High School and American Legion teams.

Current Optimist president Hayes said the field will have a new look altogether once it is completed.

“It will most likely be turned,” Hayes said. “They haven’t determined if it will actually be opposite of how it set before or what, but there were visibility problems before that made it tough to play sometimes, so we think having the field face a different direction will resolve some of that.”

Sanders said that meeting the spring deadline to have the field in shape in time for the defending 6A state champion Bears to open their season next March will be tough, especially with all the changes in store, but he added that it is doable.

“It takes a long time to get everything cut out and measured,” Sanders said. “They are getting an engineering company to come in and get things lined out, and I’m sure we will be involved in some aspects. Everything will have to be redone, even getting grass to grow where there wasn’t any before.

“There is a lot of talk, not from the city, but by this person or that person wondering if it will really be done in time, but I think we’ll get it done.”

Assistant director Darren Austin said that as of this time, no exact cost figures are available for the park repairs. He added he hopes the new lights will be completed in the next few months.

There are a number of local teams that will be on hand for the six-day tournament. Cabot Nicholson will kick off the tourney Friday morning with a 9 a.m. first-round game against Pine Bluff Seabrook. Sylvan Hills Gilbert will also play a Friday morning game against Maumelle select, Sylvan Hills Bash will play at 10:45 Friday against Magnolia Belt, and Jacksonville Bobo will take on Monticello Preston on field 7. Lonoke will take on Dumas Hill in the round of 12:30 p.m. games, while Jacksonville Lovercheck and SH Eddleman will sit out the first round with byes.

Jacksonville Lovercheck will play the winner between Monticello Griffin and Lakewood Renshaw at 2:15 p.m. Friday, and Eddleman will play either England or Star City Maynard at 5:45 p.m.