Summit a top-notch softball complex

photo Staff File Photo by Allison Kwesell Katie Etheridge, Rose Schmidt and Abby Lyall, from left, tour the Summit of Softball Complex during its opening. The facility is owned by the city and maintained by the Parks & Recreation Department.

WHERE, WHAT AND WHENDriving directions to the Summit of Softball Complex: From I-75 North, take exit 7A and go toward Collegedale. After 2.6 miles, veer right on Apison Pike. Go 1.4 miles to the Summit of Softball entrance on the right. From I-75 South, take exit 11 toward Ooltewah. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp, go 0.3 mile and take a right on Little Debbie Parkway. Go 1.7 miles, then turn right onto Apison Pike. Go 0.3 mile to the Summit of Softball entrance on the left.What's on deck at the Summit: Chattanooga's Parks & Recreation Department is offering spring and fall men's, women's and coed softball leagues in open, church and industrial divisions. The city also is seeking adults for a kickball league in spring or fall. Boys and girls can enter a pitch, hit and run skills challenge sponsored by Major League Baseball on July 17. There will be 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 age groups. For information about the Summit kickball or softball leagues, including umpiring and scorekeeping, or the youth skills competition, call Richard West at 643-6055. For details about holding community gatherings, birthday parties, team banquets, fundraisers, etc., call Greta Hayes at 643-6081.What's on deck at Warner Park: The city will offer a fastpitch summer league for youth select softball teams in age groups from coach-pitch to 18-under. Plans are to start the season June 7. Call Greta Hayes at 643-6081.

The Summit of Softball Complex is named for the community in the Ooltewah-Collegedale area where it was built. It's also aptly named as the top level attainable.

With the renovated Warner Park fastpitch complex, the facility that opened in 2009 is a key reason Chattanooga again is a major player in the bidding wars for national softball tournaments. The National Softball Association is bringing its Eastern Class B World Series girls' fastpitch tournament and 18-under A and B World Series to Chattanooga in late July. The Amateur Softball Association is bringing in its 10-under A Division fastpitch national tournament to Hamilton County in early August and its 16-under A national in early August 2011.

Construction of the Summit complex began in March 2008. A grand-opening ceremony was held July 17, 2009, a few days before the NSA's weeklong Eastern Class A World Series took place at four local complexes, including the Summit.

The Summit is owned by Chattanooga and is maintained by its Parks & Recreation Department. It was built on 82 city-owned acres at a cost of about $12 million. The complex includes seven fields with fences located 300 feet from home plate to accommodate adult slowpitch games and one with a 225-foot fence that can oblige adult women and youth play.

Each of its three tiers has color-coordinated shade structures, flowers and trash cans. The lower four-plex is red. The portion that includes the two middle fields outfitted with cameras designed to provide Internet feeds is blue. The upper level is dark green. Each area has umpires' quarters, and each field has energy-efficient lighting, its own tarp and a digital scoreboard.

The next adult leagues at the Summit are about to begin. Chris Strawn plays for a men's slowpitch team that competed there in a 2009 fall league.

"I felt like a minor-leaguer that had been called up to Yankee Stadium," Strawn said. "We've discussed it, and no one wants to play anywhere else. That was a unanimous decision."

In the center of the complex is a hospitality suite that includes television, a kitchenette and wireless capabilities.

"It can be used for everything from neighborhood association meetings to birthday parties," said Greta Hayes, the city's assistant director of recreation. "The facility is more than just a softball complex. There's a walking trail that's well-lit. There's a picnic pavillion. It's multipurpose."

To complete what city communication manager Rhonda Seeber calls the "complete leisure experience," some rocking chairs are positioned around the mid-level area.

"That was the cheapest thing," Hayes said, "but the biggest hit."