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City of Lodi celebrates March with 'Parks Madness' tournament

Mar. 13—Sixteen of Lodi's 29 parks have gone head-to-head in an online competition modeled after one of the country's most popular sports tournaments.

The City of Lodi's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department unveiled its "Parks Madness" tournament last Friday, asking residents to vote for their favorite park on a three-day cycle.

The competition is similar to that of the NCAA's March Madness tournament that begins later this month, where 64 college basketball teams go head-to-head until only two are left standing for the championship game.

Emerson Yellen, the department's new deputy director, said the Parks Madness tournament was inspired by her former employer halfway across the country.

"I just moved here from Texas, and one of the departments there did this every year," she said. "I really liked it, and (PRCS) liked the idea, so I thought I'd bring it here. It's not really copying, but it's inspired by (the older one)."

Parks that began the tournament included Candy Cane, Orchard Lane, Henry Glaves, Katzakain, DeBenedetti, Legion, Emerson and Roget; as well as Lodi Lake, Peterson, Rose Gate, Villa Rose, Zupo Field, West Gate, Hutchins Street Square West and Bob Johnson.

Residents were asked to leave a heart or care emoji — the smiley face that hugs a heart — to vote for their favorite park in each bracket.

As of Tuesday, there were eight parks — Candy Cane and Henry Glaves, Legion and Emerson, Lodi Lake and Rose Gate, and West gate and Hutchins Street Square West — in the "Elite Eight" bracket.

"There are so many different parks and different spaces, we couldn't include all of them," Yellen said of selecting which parks to feature. "So parks staff got together and we worked out the schedule, and chose which ones were more popular or used more. We tried not to put larger parks like Lodi Lake up against smaller parks like Candy Cane."

Unlike the March Madness tournament, the "winner" of this competition will not be receiving an award or prize.

"It's really just a way to engage the community," she said. "We want people to comment what they feel about the parks, what they like or don't like, and then we'll take those thoughts into consideration and see how we can improve."

Voting for the "Elite Eight" has ended, and the "Final Four" bracket was to be posted today (Wednesday). Voting will end Saturday night, and the final two parks will face-off in the championship on Sunday.

The winner will be announced Wednesday, March 13.

If Parks Madness is a success this spring, Yellen said she hopes to keep the tournament an annual event.

"It seems like we're getting a lot of positive reactions," she said. "Hopefully we'll get feedback throughout the year."

To vote for your favorite park in the tournament, visit www.facebook.com/LodiParks.