SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Run-down bathrooms, old dugouts, below-average playing services, and, quite simply, sub-par athletic facilities are now a thing of the past for Sylacauga High School athletics.
For the past two seasons, the school’s football teams have played in a vastly improved Legion Stadium with upgrades including a new turf field, redesigned press boxes, new concession stands and locker rooms on both the home and visitor sideline and new seating for visitors. The newly named Douglass-Martin Court that the Aggie basketball teams call home has also gone through renovation recently.
This week, the Sylacauga High School baseball and softball teams had their first chance to enjoy their new state-of-the-art facilities, which Athletics Director and Head Football Coach Matt Griffith said were a long time coming.
“The facility was just falling apart, and softball was in the same boat. For our teams to finally have top-notch facilities across the board that match our programs’ success on the field was just long overdue,” Griffith told SylacaugaNews.com. “Most teams come to play here and they know they’re going to get beat, but they’re playing in facilities that aren’t very good. That was a bad reflection on Sylacauga.”
With the upgrades, Griffith believes the school, which has been renovated in recent years, the athletic programs, and the community, now stand in a more positive light.
“Everyone talks about us [Sylacauga] now because, and when teams show up to play us they say ‘man, Sylacauga has got it going on’ These facilities do that,” Griffith said.
But what or who does Griffith attribute these upgrades too?
He explained coaches, like baseball’s Jeff Bell and softball’s Jay Brooks, can work all they can, spending countless hours making minuscule repairs here and there to keep facilities running, but to make the improvements SHS facilities needed, Griffith said the school system needed a superintendent that knew how to manipulate the dollars and cents for the betterment of athletics.
“We talked about these upgrades for years, no doubt, but it took a superintendent like Dr. Todd Freeman who knew how to make money work,” he said. “This was not getting done without Dr. Freeman.”
According to Griffith, he walked every athletic playing field with Freeman after he was hired, who had a vision for what athletics would look like for Sylacauga in the future.
“These facilities become a point of pride for our athletes,” said baseball coach Jeff Bell. “Our facility finally matches the product we have, and want to continue, to put on the field. To play at a place that rivals every other place we’ll travel, that gives our guys a place they want to come to, and it’s a place they are proud of.”
So what is Bell’s favorite aspect of the upgrades? He gave the answer he believes “every baseball guy” would give. He said the playing surface is easily his most treasured enhancement to his park.
The junior varsity boys defeated Opelika 4-2 in Sylacauga’s first game on the field Friday night.
Renovations to the SHS softball facility include:
- New concession stand and press box
- New seating
- New dugouts and back stop
- New sod, in-field, and irrigation system.
Renovations for the SHS baseball facility include:
- New press box, concession stand, and restrooms
- New dugouts
- New dressing rooms and restrooms added on to the already existing indoor hitting facility
- New exterior fencing and entrance into the stadium
- Additional accessible handicap parking
Both teams held ribbon cutting ceremonies this week during the first games on the fields. Sylacauga City Schools staff joined players and some city officials on the infield to celebrate the facilities. The softball team’s ceremony was Tuesday night as the Lady Aggies got a win on their first try at home. Head Softball Coach Jay Brooks said, “We have an amazing facility and we are thankful to the people of Sylacauga, the City Council, the Sylacauga Board of Education, and all of those that worked together to watch create such an amazing facility for our female athletes. We are so very proud of it. Everyone seems to be talking about it right now and I know people are dying to come and play at our facilities. Special thanks to Dr. Freeman and Matt Hubbard who spearheaded this project and all of the effort and time they put in to make this so special.”