Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
But as more and more cities have imitated Montgomery’s softball complex, newer versions have made Lagoon Park Softball Complex more outdated.
The city is investing in upgrades to the complex this spring as part of a five-year contract with the Alabama High School Athletic Association to host its events at different venues in the city.
“As part of our deal with the athletic association, it had come up in discussions that the dugouts were too small,” said Wiley Steen, director of leisure services for the city. “When they were built in 1976, there weren’t a lot of people on (slow-pitch recreational) teams. It wasn’t made for high school.”
When the high school athletic association added softball to its list of sports in 1986, Lagoon Park was a logical choice to add the event.
At that time, the complex was considered one of the finest in America. Over the years, as newer complexes have been built — many of them copying the unique design of the Lagoon press box with surrounding fields — the facility has begun to show its age.
Mayor Todd Strange said he took a tour of the complex in 2012 and ordered improvements to the press box, changes that have come in incremental stages.
“We’ve actually done it out of the capital operations fund,” Strange said. “It was probably $50,000 to do the clubhouse. I don’t know what the dugouts cost, but you always need to take care of your fields. (Steen) told me we needed to spend some money out there. … All we did was cosmetic stuff, no major changes. We just put down new carpet, fresh paint and some boarding on the outside.”
The dugouts were next. City workers poured more concrete to move the aluminum grandstands farther down the baseline to provide the necessary room to enlarge the dugouts. Next on the agenda are the three berms between the fields. The landscape once included numerous trees that provided shade for fans and participants, but over the years, most of the trees have been removed, detracting from the original beauty of the complex.
“The dugouts are done, new benches are in there and we’ve cut down all the berms,” Steen said. “Eventually, we’re going to take out the berms and replace them with pavers and a shade structure. That was in our plan several years ago, and we didn’t get the funding for it. All of this work was done in-house with our people, so it was whatever the cost of the material was, which was probably less than $10,000.”
Over the years, the Alabama High School Athletic Association tournament has grown, changing to six divisions in classification (from three) in 1989, adding fast-pitch softball in 1995 and ending slow-pitch after the 2002 season.
A fast-pitch invitational tournament last weekend was the first tournament since the latest modifications. The Alabama Independent School Association will hold its state tournament there Friday and Saturday, and the larger AHSAA state tournament will test the new improvements May 16-18.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to keep that (AHSAA) tournament, because it’s a huge (economic) impact,” Steen said. “We have to keep it looking good because a lot of people want that event.”