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Rain fails to dampen enthusiasm for new softball field

Jan. 26—After a nearly two-year hiatus, Clarkdale's Lady Bulldogs softball team is getting closer to practicing and playing home games on the high school campus once again.

Crews from D&E Construction Inc., based in Meridian, have continued to work through the recent cold snap and rain to get the high school's softball field — heavily damaged by two separate tornadoes two years ago — ready in time for the spring season. While there is a still a lot of work to do, the field is taking shape.

"The girls are extremely excited to get back to playing on campus," said Clarkdale softball coach Grant Hill.

He said the team is planning a special event to open play back at home on Feb. 23 against Quitman.

"In the next two weeks, this place should look really, really close to being finished," Hill said. "Right now, the focus is on getting the field finished."

While the new batting cage and some other minor things may still need to be completed in late February or early March, he said, "everything we will need for a game will be done."

In spring 2022, two separate tornadoes swept through the Clarkdale area within weeks of each other, heavily damaging the softball field and several buildings on campus. Construction work to repair and remodel Building 300 also is underway at the present.

Last year, the Lady Bulldogs played their home games on softball fields in the Clarkdale Tri County Sports Complex in Aubrey Galyean Park on Valley Road.

Adam Foreman, Lauderdale County School District's outgoing director of operations, said the contractor is moving along on the softball field and that crews continued to work during the recent cold temperatures and this week's rainy weather though he wasn't sure if it put them behind schedule.

"They are still planning on the girls playing on the field this season," he said. "Will everything be completed, maybe not, but they will be able to play on the field."

The new outfield wall in the approximately $1.9 million project is complete, and lights are up around the field. The two new dugouts are constructed, but still must be finished. The new concession stand, press box and public restrooms building is taking shape. The new bleachers on the first and third base sides, as well as the premium seats in front of the concession stand, need to be built. A new batting cage across the street will take longer to complete. Last week, the school board approved a change order for the project by a vote of 3-2 to add on-deck circles in front of each of the dugouts with netting around the circles.

Because of the significant tornado damage, Clarkdale is the last of the county's four high school campuses to receive major improvements and upgrades to its softball facilities. West Lauderdale's softball field was the first to see major improvements following a 2018 settlement between the school district and parents of two former female student-athletes who sued the district over what they claimed were disparities between the baseball and softball programs, citing Title IX violations between girls and boys sports.

As part of the settlement, the district upgraded the West softball facilities and agreed to improvements at the other three campuses. Northeast and Southeast Lauderdale campuses completed their upgrades last year. The tornado damage, settling with the insurance company, designing the new field and demolishing the old facilities caused delays to rebuilding and upgrading Clarkdale's field.

Contact Glenda Sanders at gsanders@themeridianstar.com.