Take one look at the many venues our state's athletes play in for their respective championships. Football alternates between Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium and Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium, basketball hits the court at the BJCC in Birmingham, Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery plays host to baseball, soccer stakes their claim to John Hunt Park in Huntsville, and this year, swimming and diving competed at Auburn. The lineup goes on too, a laundry list of some of the state's top facilities.
But that doesn't seem to be the case for softball.
Those girls are left with a field that's past it's prime and was actually designed for slow-pitch softball. Slow-pitch softball fields typically have 300 ft. fences while high school fast-pitch fields typically have 200 ft. fences. To correct this issue at Lagoon Park, the current home of the AHSAA State Softball Tournament, they install collapsable fences that many take issue with. On top of the park dimentions that don't meet the standards of fast-pitch softball, some in the community feel the dugouts are too small and that the facility as a whole needs to improve to better honor our state's athletes who make it to the tournament.
It's that glaring issue that's causes a stir within the sport's community around the state becasue there's no denying softball has come a long way since it was first sanctioned as a sport by the Alabama High School Athletics Association back in 1995 but the facility they play in for the sport's biggest prize hasn't evolved at the same pace.
"We need to consider looking at ways to improve the location," said Huntsville-Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame coach Kent Chambers. "Again, Lagoon Park is the grandfather of facilities in Alabama and they've done a great job of hosting but we need to kind of progress as the sport's progressing."
Kent isn't the only one who feels this way either. Since the AHSAA State Softball Tournament concluded coaches, parents, media members and fans of the sport have taken to Twitter to make their voices heard. Pushing the issue that changes need to happen because they believe softball players deserve to compete for a blue map on a playing field that matches the championship venues of all the other sports in the state.
Softball in this state is too good and way too popular to be given a backseat at the state championship. I’m on board with Coach Clark! Let’s work together for a better experience for the young ladies of Alabama. https://t.co/tyn08nf6bD
— Patrick Murphy (@UACoachMurphy) May 23, 2018
Softball is a great sport. So is football. So is baseball. So is basketball. So are many others.
Something tells me we’re barking up the right tree. The kids that play this sport have earned the right to have a special championship experience, just like the others. pic.twitter.com/NBF8PhGFb3
— Kyle Parmley (@KyleParmley) May 24, 2018
— AuburnHS Softball (@SoftballAHS) May 21, 2018
"I was on the state championship basketball team in 1987 and it is still the single highlight of my entire life," said University of Alabama in Huntsville softball coach Les Steudeman. "That is what these tournaments are to these kids and whenever you have the opportunity without spending a bazillion dollars to impact them positively, why wouldn't you want to do that?"
The lack of immediate action from the AHSAA can't be mistaken as a sign of ignorance to the issue. According to Chambers, the AHSAA's executive director, Steve Savarese has informed him that he recognizes there is an issue and he plans to address it. How that manifests itself is still unclear at this time but whatever change could happen outside of renovating the exhisting location is going to take some time.
The AHSAA's lease with Lagoon Park runs through 2020 and they have made it clear they plan to honor that lease and their commitment to Lagoon Park who has been a great partner to them over the years.
"It's easy to say, 'Let's just got play at the University of Alabama', well there's a lot to be considered with that, not just the field," Chambers said. "There's a lot outside infrastructure that has to be done and I think he's gonna do what's best for the kids."
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