Inductee spotlight: Springfield-Greene County Park Board

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In 2003, just three years after earning the Gold Medal for best public parks system in the country, the phone rang into the offices of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. On the other end of the line was a representative from none other than Sports Illustrated.

It still leaves officials shaking their heads in disbelief. SI, which for decades brought to life the feature stories of some of the greatest names in sports and is read by 23 million weekly, was about to name Springfield as SI’s “SportsTown USA.”

Said former longtime Park Board leader Jodie Adams, “I’ll never forget Lester Munson, the senior writer of SI, saying, ‘Every community in the United States should be like Springfield, Missouri.’”

The Park Board has played a major role in the Ozarks’ quality of life, influencing thousands of young athletes thanks to an array of facilities and opportunities and wooing national and international events, too. Overall, it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the Springfield-Greene County Park Board with the Class of 2018.

The induction is part of the Enshrinement presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 28 at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100 & see information below.)

The Park Board will celebrate its 105th year in 2018. Operating parks in Springfield and Greene County since 1996, the Park Board is responsible for 104 park sites, with 2.9 million users annually, and hosts 50 national, regional and state events a year that pump $15 million into the local economy.

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In the early 2000s, for instance, it affiliated with the United States Olympic Committee’s Community Olympic Development Program (CODP), ensuring local athletes had access to properly trained coaches and performance measures. In 2016, it joined elite company, or less than 2 percent of public parks nationally, in earning accreditation through the Committee for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.

Among its many facilities is Cooper Park, home to the Killian Softball Complex, Lake Country Soccer fields, youth baseball facilities and the 29-court Cooper Tennis Complex. The tennis facility features 2,500-seat Mediacom Stadium, home to a professional World TeamTennis franchise – the only one in the U.S. operated by a public parks system.

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All of which is only the Cliff Notes version of a department that has employed only four directors since 1953 – Jim Ewing (1953-1976), Dan Kinney (1976 to 2005), Adams (2006 to 2011) and Bob Belote (2012 to current) – and today employs 255 full-timers and counts 700 part-time and seasonal workers. Adams was there 32 years in a full-time role.

To the directors, a confluence of factors boosted the Park Board into a behemoth, particularly the 1972 federal Title IX legislation that created opportunities for women’s sports in public schools and universities. It led to tremendous sports participation and, thus, reasons to create additional Park Board facilities.

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In the 1980s and 1990s, the Harry Cooper family donated numerous acreage for the creation of the Cooper Sports Complex. In 2001 and 2006, voters approved sales tax initiatives for expansion. Additionally, more than 250 institutions, organizations and non-profits are active partners that only add to the Park Board’s momentum.

Kinney often dispatched staff to national conferences in the 1980s and 1990s, where they could spot trends years in advance.

“If we were going to do it,” Kinney said of any effort, “we were going to do it right.”

Soon, opportunities for local athletes and spectator sports expanded, as the Park Board built off its run of hosting 34 USA Softball Championships.

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Since 1996, the Springfield Lasers, one of the oldest teams in the Mylan WTT league, have played every summer at Mediacom Stadium. In 2002, the stadium hosted tennis’ USA-Israel Fed Cup, with Team USA captained by the iconic Billie Jean King and featuring stars Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles. At one point, Lake Country Soccer hosted a pro soccer exhibition. In 2004 and 2008, Meador Sports Complex hosted the USA Olympic Softball Teams.

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Additionally, the Park Board has operated:

  • Three 18-hole golf courses – Rivercut Golf Course, named in 2009 by Golf Digest as Missouri’s No. 1 public municipal course, Bill & Payne Stewart Golf Course and Horton Smith Golf Course.
  • Mediacom Ice Park, home to two skating rinks and which launched the career of Gracie Gold, a 2014 Olympic figure skater.
  • The Betty & Bobby Allison Miracle League Ball Field, which opened in 2012 as an artificial turf baseball park for children and adults with disabilities.

Overall, the entire community teamwork has shown the Park Board’s economic muscle, Belote said.

“This is one of the strongest components of the Springfield economy,” Belote said. “It’s great for our athletes, and it’s great for the local economy.”

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Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 Enshrinement Ceremonies presented by Killian Construction

When: Sunday, January 28

Morning reception: 11 a.m., presented by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice, at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield.

Afternoon festivities: 4 p.m. reception, 5 p.m. dinner & ceremony at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, Springfield

Class of 2018: Mike Garrett (Kansas City Chiefs), Lee Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), Howard Richards (University of Missouri football), Jim Otis (St. Louis Football Cardinals & Kansas City Chiefs), Martin Mac Donald (Conservationist, Outdoorsman, Runner), football coach Gary Barnett (Northwestern University & University of Colorado), softball coach Holly Hesse (Missouri State University), Doug Elgin (Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner), Dr. Brian Mahaffey (Missouri State University, St. Louis Cardinals), shot putter Christian Cantwell (Eldon High School/University of Missouri/Olympics), basketball standout Kerensa Barr Cassis (West Plains High School/Mizzou), Dan Lucy (KOLR 10 TV Sports Director), Rockhurst High School football coach Tony Severino, basketball coach Steve Tappmeyer (Northwest Missouri State University, UMSL), Rick Grayson (PGA teaching professional), Learfield, the Lamar High School Football Program, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Independent Printing – John Q. Hammons Founders Award, Rick Todd of Herschend Family Entertainment – President’s Award.

Sponsorship opportunities: Tables of 10 are $1,500 and include an autographed poster (a rendering by renowned artist Dayne Dudley), recognition in the printed program and at the table. Individual tickets are $150. Numerous other sponsorships are available, including congratulatory ads, trading cards and 20-month calendars.

Call the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame: 417-889-3100.