Head: Field issues muddy tourney's future in Vienna



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VIENNA - At the West Virginia State Softball Tournament, the outfield on Field 2 at Jackson Memorial Park could very well symbolize the current status of the tournament's future in Vienna.

Muddy, at best.

For the second year in a row, the tournament saw its schedule altered before the tournament ever got underway due to field conditions.

Jackson Memorial Park normally has three fields available for play, but after careful considerations on Tuesday night, Field 2 was deemed unplayable by tournament officials with the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, forcing officials to scramble to fit three classifications into two fields for the two-day event.

"We came over on Monday and there was still a lot of standing water and certainly, it was really soft," WVSSAC executive director Bernie Dolan said. "They worked hard through the night and into (Tuesday). We came back at lunch (Tuesday) and it had solidified a lot, but even when you walked, you were still sinking, so if you were going to make cuts or sprint, stop and try to field balls, it wasn't a good situation, safety-wise."

Dolan was complimentary of the efforts of the Parks and Recreation staff in Vienna for the work put in, but the lack of field availability threw a wrench into the schedule, especially for Class AA, who started at around 1 p.m. -- well after the scheduled time of 10 a.m. The field issues created an elongated day of action on the tournament's first day -- an issue that also was present in 2018.

The timing couldn't have been worse for Vienna, who is in its last year with the bid for the state softball tournament.

Considering the 2018 contests experienced lengthy delays due to heavy water taken on when tarps were not placed on the field prior to a torrential downpour the night before the tournament, Wednesday's starting issues begged one question: "Is it time for the tournament to move elsewhere in the state?"

Dolan said that everything would be taken into account when WVSSAC officials discuss the future of the tournament next month during meetings.

"I would say there's a lot of consideration," Dolan said. "We've had softball here for quite a few years. It's a tough sport in the spring and Vienna has done a really good job. This year and last year, it was the outfield -- not infield -- and so, normally, when people tarp, they tarp an infield. Apparently, there is a drain problem out in the outfield of (Field) 2 that they are going to address."

Another major factor that will go into the bid process is whether to allow tournament play to take place on turf fields, which has been a hot debate in recent years.

The issues in Vienna are with the outfield drainage -- an area that is not generally covered by a tarp, but the situations in Vienna definitely rekindles that talk and it's not a topic that Dolan and his staff are opposed to discussing.

"Since I've been in the office, we've been looking toward making turf more available for tournament play," Dolan said. "In my opinion, even though people don't play on turf all the time, there are more and more turf fields and, safety-wise, it's a truer hop. You aren't going to get many bad hops. It might be a little bit faster, but at least you aren't going to get bad bounces. It was already on softball's agenda for next month to make sure that it's approved."

If that approval goes through, look for sites such as South Charleston/Shawnee Park and Hurricane's complex at Valley Park, as well as others around the state, to join Vienna in the mix to host the tournament, starting in 2020.

Depending on what happens with that bid process, Thursday could be the final day for action at Jackson Memorial Park and Vienna's run as hosts of the state softball tournament could come to a close.