Chattanooga again is a major player in the competition for large softball tournaments. If renovations at Warner Park within the last couple of years didn't validate that, the Summit of Softball Complex does.
Finishing touches are being added to the 80-plus-acre layout named for the Summit community in the Ooltewah-Collegedale area where it's located. The city's Parks & Recreation Department would like to think the name could easily be interpreted by one of Webster's definitions for summit -- the highest level of achievement attainable.
Jack Gibson is a player/coach for the over-75 Legends and has been playing slowpitch softball since 1958 after a baseball career at Troy State and a brief stint playing fastpitch softball while in the military. The Legends will play a qualifying game at Summit against a local 65-70 team before each moves on to state competition July 17-19 at Franklin.
"We've been needing a complex like this for a number of years," Gibson said. "This is something you dream about having in your area. Whoever designed it must've been an ex-softball player."
Cost of the project is estimated at $11-12 million. Dillard Construction's Kerry Nabors, the project manager, said work began March 24, 2008, "at 8:07 in the morning."
The complex features bat-and-ball-themed monuments and decorative fencing. A roomy pavilion covers 16 picnic tables. Scoreboards are digital.
Each of the design's three tiers has brightly colored shade covers over the bleachers, along with color-coordinated flowers and garbage cans in each area. The lower four-plex is the red area. The middle stage, where fields Nos. 5 and 6 are equipped to feature live video feeds, makes up the blue area. The upper level and its two fields are adorned in dark green.
"Anybody that's seen it has pretty much been blown away by it," Greater Sports and Events Committee president Scott Smith said. "It's not your traditional complex. It's not a little circle of fields. Aside from the uniqueness, the quality of the playing fields and the facilities will help us with anything we go after."
The Summit of Softball Complex is already paying a huge dividend in that it helped Chattanooga land the National Softball Association World Series East A Division girls' fastpitch tournament. Smith said the expected 300 or so teams at an average stay of five nights each would pump an estimated $4.5 million into the local economy.
Although opening ceremonies for the complex won't take place until mid-July, the first action is planned for next weekend when the Amateur Softball Association will host a girls' fastpitch national qualifying tournament there. Unlike Warner Park, though, this complex is built for slowpitch and adults as well.
Seven of the eight fields at Summit offer permanent 300-foot fences from home plate. The Sports Committee will look at bringing in big slowpitch tournaments as well.
"We haven't even been able to look at anything like that in years," Smith said.
Not since Montague Park was closed in 2003 has there been a complex that could host adult softball events. Incidentally, the Summit of Softball is near an old city landfill but not on top of one like Montague.
The first adult event to return will be the NSA's Pick-O-Dixie men's tournament July 3-5.
The weekend after that, USSSA is bringing a youth baseball competition to Summit. The park has portable mounds that can be set up, plus temporary fencing when needed.
"I think the first three weekends says a lot about the versatility of the place," said Greta Hayes, assistant director of parks for the city.
Adding to that versatility is a walking track around the lower area. The property offers Wi-Fi, features an abundant amount of security cameras and includes a hospitality suite that will soon house four flat-screen TVs.
"We want it to be community friendly," Hayes said. "We want it to be for more than just softball."
Other amenities at the park include an umpire's quarters, complete with lockers and a shower. Each field has an irrigated infield, bermuda grass outfield, a warning track and a tarp.
For covenience, both main concession stands will be equipped to take debit and credit cards. Everything is also handicap-accessable.
"This is almost like having another child to me," Hayes said. "My goal for this is I just want people when they leave here and go somewhere else to say, 'There's nothing like Chattanooga. You can't beat it.'"
The city again will be offering league slowpitch softball at the new complex beginning this fall season. For more information call (423) 643-6081.