By Travis Sloat
At Monday night’s Board of Trustees meeting, one citizen asked the question, “How much interest is there for softball in Fort Gibson?”
The question was asked in response to the board’s decision on Monday night to have Holloway, Updike, and Bellen Inc. design the Fort Gibson Sports Complex with a $500,000 budget. The complex will be built in two phases.
Phase I will include concessions, two pavilions, parking, sewer, water and soccer fields.
Almost 11 years ago, Jerry Whitlock donated 10 acres of land for a softball complex to be built in memory of Quincy Vaughn, a former employee of Whitlock’s.
After discussion with Whitlock, the town sold the original 10 acres for $314,905.
Then two years ago, Whitlock wrote the town a letter asking for them to move forward on the project or to purchase the land he donated back and give it back to him.
Mayor Steven Hill said he didn’t even know the town owned the property until he had been on the board for a year.
“The board had changed so much, we didn’t know the history of it,” Hill said.
Hill also said Whitlock made it clear to him the last time they met his goal was to see something done to “benefit the youth of Fort Gibson.”
“He threw a lot of suggestions out,” Hill said. “He made it clear it didn’t have to be a softball complex. He still wants it done in the memory of Quincy Vaughn. I’ve been keeping him posted on our recent developments, and all his responses have been positive.”
Billy Whitehead, assistant high school soccer coach, said he didn’t make it to the board meeting on Monday night but he sent plenty of folks to represent Fort Gibson soccer.
“I think we have about 500 kids playing right now,” Whitehead said. “The fields we have are packed. We have some teams that are even using their own land to practice on because we don’t have room.”
Whitehead said he was aware of a soccer/softball issue, but he believes the majority of interest lies in kicking the ball, not hitting it.
Fort Gibson purchased 30 acres of land with the proceeds from the sale of the original donated land. That purchase left them with about $150,000 to put toward the cost of development and design.
Hill said the Parks and Recreation department made the switch from softball to soccer in part because of the interest, but also because of the cost.
“We originally had an agreement just for softball,” Hill said. “But the estimates came back and it was more money than what we had. The cost per child is much cheaper for soccer than it is for softball. Also, 512 kids will benefit from this immediately.”
Hill also said, since the town was on a limited budget, he is planning on actively seeking volunteer community participation for the construction of the complex.
Whitehead said that’s something he agrees with, and he thinks the decision to put soccer first will impact the town’s economy in a positive way.
“This will bring more teams in,” he said. “Once you go competitive, you’re traveling and you’re bringing teams to you. They will bring families and fans, and the town’s revenues will see an increase from that.”