I am a member of the Waverly Kiwanis Club. I’m writing this as an individual not as a Kiwanian. I chose the Kiwanis Club largely because of their leadership with Little League Baseball in Waverly. As a Kiwanian, I served on the original task force for Champions Ridge. I dropped off the committee about the time they were zeroing in on the Neil Smith property. I simply didn’t have expertise to contribute to the group. But I have tracked the project with interest and am proud to report that our Kiwanis Club made a $25,000 pledge to Champions Ridge.
Before Kiwanis, I was a member of the Waverly Jaycees. The Jaycees of my era were restricted to males between 18 and 35. We had a female auxiliary known as the Jaycee-ettes (primarily our wives) who were valuable partners in this story. The Jaycee Club of that era was probably the most diverse cross section of the Waverly population that has ever existed in a service club. And our youthfulness gave us the advantage of not knowing what we couldn’t accomplish.
My story begins in 1967. As a new employee at Lutheran Mutual I was welcomed and immediately invited to play on the slow-pitch softball team. At the time there were two diamonds. The east field (very close to Lions Field) had two major obstacles to negotiate. The right fielder had to contend with a light pole in fair territory and the left fielder had to contend with the old race track (a significant change in elevation as you went after a fly ball.) The second diamond was much better with only one obstacle — the new swimming pool was in play. Dead center field. The ground rules declared a ball hit into the pool as a home run and that probably occurred about every night we played. The swimming pool was open for evening swim at the times of our games, so not a good situation.
The park itself was a nice place for a Fair, but not much else. No playground, the football field took up space but was only being used by the junior high, and the east bleachers were still in place. There were no parking areas for cars nor any defined roadways. An accident waiting to happen! And power poles/light poles all over the park.
Now the Jaycees enter the picture. Our President Chris Blume challenged the club to upgrade the park. Out of that challenge came a four-point plan:
1. Fix the two ball diamonds and add a third
2. Add a playground area with new equipment
3. Open up the park to remove obstacles such as the bleachers and light poles to make it more flexible for different uses
4. Establish a perimeter to control parking and traffic
This was not an easy concept to get sold. As with today’s project, we needed to work with the Fair Board, the school, the city, and any other interested parties. It was a slow process. We made a plan without any concept of what it would cost and through a lot of help from citizens who jumped on board we were able to get the plan together and get approval to proceed. We held a major fundraiser (the Bicentennial Kick-off Celebration), in 1975 where we raffled off a brand new Gremlin, sold tickets for a pig roast, and asked for donations. The money got raised thanks to a very generous community.
I was not on the Jaycee committee that actually raised the donations, so I can’t tell you who major donors were or who provided in kind donations. There were many. One notable donation was from the Lions Club — they paid for one ball diamond and I think you can guess which one it was.
So that’s the story of Memorial Park and how we got to today. Over 40 years have passed and the ball diamonds still look about the same. Except the west ball diamond only had a backstop when we put it in — the fair board didn’t want the outfield fence.
So why bring all this up? It provides some context for today’s issues. Not much has changed. A new task force was formed and they came up with a plan which was accepted. Except in this case, the magic didn’t happen! Sad!
I do have a solution to offer. It seems too obvious, but here are my thoughts:
1. The county fair needs a new home. The city and the fair board had a deal that involved Neil Smith’s farm. The fair board raised money for their portion of the land and the city reneged on the deal! Solution: The city instead of paying back the money owes the fair a plot of land that is as suitable as the Champion’s Ridge site. Go find a spot! The city wants the fair moved — so, make it happen. And the city needs to provide the services that would have been provided to Champions Ridge.
2 Adult softball needs upgraded diamonds. We have three ball diamonds currently. Choose one (or two) to upgrade on a temporary basis. The softball team needs a fence? — build it like you need it. If the fair needs to not have a fence, make it moveable! Need grass infield, get some sod or seed down the selected diamonds. Better lighting, concession stand? Figure it out! Working together doesn’t seem that hard.
Adult Softball phase 2: Once the fair is gone and their buildings are no longer in the park, it seems like the city can remove three old diamonds and build three new ones in the same amount of space. Choose a corner of the park that works for everyone with parking, and controlled access for tournaments. Or if the city really has a great plan for an upgrade Memorial Park after 40 years, and if it doesn’t involve ball diamonds the solution is even easier. The city just needs to find some land and let the softball people build now!
It seems clear to me that it is the city which is forcing the issues with the fair location and ball diamonds. As with any planning and zoning issue, decide where you want to locate stuff and do it. That’s what cities do!
And I don’t want to hear any arguments as to how we can justify three ball diamonds for the number of softball players. We had large numbers playing slow pitch in the past and just maybe we can do that again — it is a fun game and great exercise! We’re building for the future so let’s give ourselves room to grow our programs. Three diamonds to replace three diamonds seems fair to me. Our city deserves it.