Cancellation of this year's Cherokee County softball league activities has sparked frustration among area athletes and their parents, who are complaining about delays in finishing the fields at Anthis-Brennan Sports Complex.
Several area residents have complained to the Tahlequah Daily Press that this season fizzled, and so did previous ones. That's not only costing the city revenue, but depriving players of a home-turf venue.
Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron said the target date for completion is in August, and the fields should be ready for the next ball season.
“I'm certainly looking forward to the day when these fields are busy with games, tournaments and practices, and our youngsters are playing in one of the best facilities around,” said Catron, who just took office in early May.
Catron said that when the weather is drier, red dirt can be applied to the unfinished fields.
“Approximately 15 loads of red dirt need to be added to the infields to bring them up to proper elevation and to improve drainage and playability,” Catron said.
Because the continuous rain and the soft ground are making it difficult to get a boom truck onto the new fields, the installation of bulbs and electric hookup to the scoreboards and lights is on hold.
Newly elected Ward 4 Councilor Trae Ratliff has hit the ground running, and the softball fields are among his first projects to tackle.
Ratliff said a Cherokee County softball league parent suggested that the city host a kick-off tournament in the fall at the Anthis-Brennan Complex. He does plan to meet with Sallisaw youth league president, vice president, city and project managers today, Tuesday.
Ratliff also expects to meet with the city manager and Charles Poteet on Friday to discuss a timeline for the fields and what he learned in Sallisaw.
“My priority is getting these new fields off the ground, and I recognize there is a problem here,” said Ratliff.
The Tahlequah Daily Press asked readers on its website if getting the fields up and running, as well as recruitment for tournaments, should be a priority for the city. Fifteen strongly agreed, whereas eight somewhat agreed. Three voted they somewhat disagreed, three said they strongly disagreed and one was undecided.
On a June 22 TDP Saturday Forum, readers were asked for their take on the incomplete fields at Anthis-Brennan, and where they would be willing to help reform leagues.
Tyler Nipper said that with the significant amount of bond money spent on the complex, finishing the project and being able to host tournaments should be a priority.
Tahlequah resident Gary Cacy said he believes Tahlequah is missing out financially because of the field delays, and with the run-down facilities at the Phoenix Park ball fields. He said local teams deserve a good place to play.
“I have been asking the former mayor and staff about the fields since they were first started. I have heard the former administration say for years they are close, but progress is still very slowly happening," said Cacy. “The recreation department needs to get a plan together and execute. Time for action.”
Several parents have told the TDP they were forced to play in surrounding cities just to have access to decent fields. Bobbi Hammons said she played softball in college, and this entailed more than just providing a field.
“These kids deserve a place to play that is clean and safe, and their parents deserve to play right here in Tahlequah,” said Hammons. “It used to be the tournament capital when it come to softball, and everyone came here to play, and that brought money to our town.”
She said it's time to stop pointing fingers, which has only exacerbated the problem, meaning a group of prominent players are missing out on the action.
“As far as city employees, they are just passing the buck, and we just need to fix it for these girls,” said Hammons.