JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Softball is officially back in Johns Creek parks.
Skill-building clinics are being held for girls interested in entering or growing in the sport, and four field sites between Newtown and Ocee parks have been identified.
This comes just weeks after 34 softball-supporting community members spoke out at during public comment at a City Council meeting pleading for the reinstatement of a Johns Creek softball recreation league.
Leading the charge to revive the sport in the city is Mike Eves, community leader, longtime coach and softball dad.
Eves served as coach for the Chattahoochee High School feeder team for several years, often coordinating and consulting with other teams in the area. He began to understand the universal issues plaguing all area programs: the pipeline was drying up.
Because there was no community recreation league, younger girls were not participating in the sport. Each year, this put greater strain on the high school teams which were hurt by a decrease in players and a shallow pool of talent, Eves said.
During the public comment Sept. 13, parents, coaches and players asked the city to develop a K-5 recreation league to help cultivate interest at the elementary level and insure a future for the high school softball programs.
“It’s an equal access, equal opportunity situation,” Eves said. “We’re putting a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of investment into boys baseball, and we need to have that equal access for these girls to play because it is really a Title IX issue at the end of the day.”
Title IX is an Education Amendment adopted in 1972 stipulating that people cannot be discriminated against based on gender in educational programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance. Schools, local and state educational agencies all fall under the purview of Title IX.
Programming was not the only issue impeding softball in Johns Creek. Supporters also lacked dedicated space.
Jacobs Field was built for softball at Ocee Park, but after the city ended the recreational programs, it was transitioned to support tee-ball. Now, Jacobs Field will again be used for softball, Eves said.
Another field at Ocee and two fields at Newtown Park have also been identified for softball. Minor adjustments to the field including changes to the infield and the construction of a removeable fence shortening the outfield are all it would take to begin leveling the metaphorical playing fields, Eves said.
Since the large showing at the Sept. 13 public comment, Eves has worked alongside Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee Chair Chris Jackson, City Council members Lenny Zaprowski and John Bradberry, among others.
Eves has also submitted a proposal to the city manager’s office and is working to finalize plans for field adjustments and a K-5 league. Eves’ proposal also provides guidance for how the city could host future softball tournaments.
The goal is a true Field of Dreams scenario, “If you build it [they] will come.” Interest will be cultivated by the parents, and Eves hopes, by the city. They need only to build the infrastructure of the program, supply the fields and the players will find it.
Jackson said he’s heartened to see so much support in the community.
“I’ve spent time with every City Council member, including the ones who have just won … and they’re all on board,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s moving ahead.”
Phase one of Cauley Creek construction is set to begin in December, but Jackson said there is potential for softball fields to become a part of the phase two plans, though that would likely depend on findings during development of the new Recreation and Parks Master Plan.
After the Sept. 13 public comment, Zaprowski tacked on an amendment to the fiscal year 2022 budget allocating an additional $120,000 to the parks budget, specifically for increasing programming, but Jackson said those funds have not yet been tapped.
The goal of the funds will be to hire an additional staff member to help facilitate increased programming in Johns Creek parks, like softball.
In this interim period before a five-seat turnover in the City Council, Jackson said the city manager’s office has been “on the ball” in talks with the softball community.
Eves has been working with Ocee Park President JR Canales to put on the skill-building clinics on Sundays. They’ve already hosted five but are still working to raise awareness.
“The big thing is we’ve got to get the word out, so the girls realize that it’s an option now, right in Johns Creek for programming because they haven’t had that option in a long time,” Eves said.
For more information on Johns Creek recreational softball, Eves directs interested players and parents to fill out a google form: forms.gle/eSdLCNhuBWvDnG446.