Public Works – Part Two
Parks and Recreation Department
Before the incorporation of the City of Midfield, local volunteer coaches were teaching neighborhood kids to play baseball and football in a vacant lot where Midfield Shopping Center and Alabama Thrift store are now located. With the opening of the Elememtary School in 1954, 11 1/2 acres came with the school and the youth sports program was moved to the school property. An organization of coaches and officials was formed.
By 1957, W.A. Belcher had donated the land around Hawkins Spring to be used for a dedicated park. A playground was built near the entrance (where the playground is today) with a road leading to it from Woodward Rd.. Later that year the Midfield Lions Club built a bar-b-cue pavilion near the playground for their annual Labor Day event. Plans for a swimming pool were ongoing at this time.
The Midfield Municipal Pool opened in the summer of 1958. It was staffed mainly from school teachers with lifeguard training. The bathhouse included a concession stand that faced an outside patio. Concession rights were contracted to Mr. Robert B. Watkins, who later added on to the building to enclose the patio for an arcade. Watson also added a “goofy golf” behind the swimming pool.The road from Woodward Rd. (now next to the library) made a loop in front of the swimming pool and extended back up to what would be the “Frosty Treat” parking lot on the Bessemer Super Highway. The pool was reserved for residents and their guests, but the guest policy was very liberal and the traffic was heavy.
On August 2, 1962 (a dark day for Midfield), eleven-year-old Larry Thomas, who was an avid Little League baseball player and catcher for the Midfield Braves, was kidnapped near the school and ballpark by a convicted sex offender. He was killed the next morning. The kidnapper coaxed the boy and his companion into his car on the pretense of knowing another boy in the area. Larry’s companion, Kim Canady, was released unharmed. Police later took into custody a 28 year old Blount County man who was convicted and sentenced to prison for the slaying.
By early 1962 the Midfield Chamber of Commerce was sponsoring a fund-raising campaign to raise money for a Larry Thomas Memorial Baseball Field. Chamber President B.Y. Williams Sr. appointed Police Chief J.W. Morris as chairman. “Not only do we need additional recreational facilities here, but the dedication of the field to Larry Thomas will serve as a constant reminder to future generations of what happened here,” Morris said. The field was to be built behind Hawkins Springs in a 17 acre park reserve that was the location of a playground and swimming pool. This would allow the Dixie Youth Majors and Minors to be transferred from the elementary school.
In 1963 the Midfield All-Stars won the Dixie Youth World Series. Manager Shelly Cain Jr. and Assistant Manager, J.C. Lacey led the team to the ultimate victory.
Standing, L-R Jimmy Walls, Garry Martin, John Creel, Shelly Cain Jr. (coach), Joe Moon, Bobby Cain, J.C. Lacey (assistant coach), David Tipton, Andy Morris, and Kim Cannady. Kneeling, L-R Barry Gentry, Nikki Lacey, Mike Walls, Jerry Cargile, Robert Hill, Al Meadows, Carl Martin and Ricky Hancock.
Larry Thomas Field was finally completed in time for the 1964 season and the Dixie Youth Majors and Minors began playing there every night. The Chamber had donated $2,712 to the project and the City contributed a lot of labor.
From the very beginning Iralee and W.E. Benns, owners of WVOK radio station, were avid supporters of the City of Midfield. They bought badges for the police department, sponsored four ball teams every year, and could be counted on to come through when other help was needed. The field by the elementary school was called Benns Field in their honor. When the second field was built in the park in 1965 for the older pony league and colt league boys, the elementary school field would be vacated for games.
On June 19, 1965 a special event with a parade and speakers was given for the official dedication of the new Benns Field. Congressman Armistead Selden was the key speaker. The park now had a playground, a bar-b-que pavilion, a swimming pool with arcade and carpet golf, and two baseball fields.
In 1966 Midfield Dixie Youth did it again. The 2nd World Series win in four years. This time Manager Jack Goodwin and Assistant Manager Olen Whisnant led the all-star champions.
In 1967 two asphalt tennis courts were built on the park road leading to Larry Thomas Field. Mickey and Gladys Harper were among the first players and soon Mickey was teaching tennis and organizing tournaments there. Mickey would go on to organize the “Midfield Racquet Club” and serve the interest of tennis in Midfield for many more years. In 1990 Mickey was inducted into the Alabama Tennis Hall of Fame for his contribution as a state official and in 2000 he received the National Nick Powell Tennis Award. Mickey continued teaching in Midfield until moving from Midfield in 2006.
In 1968 two acres were purchased from the Catholic Church for $20,000 and was cleared for additional park space (site of softball field). Also, by the fall of the year the new football field had been constructed. It was built largely by Public Works Director, Charlie Waldrop, with heavy equipment from the city. By football season the Midfield Football Association was using the field.
The need for a community center in Midfield was recognized as far back as 1962 when the Ensley Armory had to start looking for a new location due to the one in Ensley being replaced by the freeway. The Midfield Chamber of Commerce and the Midfield Lions Club were pushing for the Armory. The chamber felt that the Armory would add to the City Park by providing a recreation center free to the City. Chamber President B.Y. Williams Sr. said, “An Armory in the park would provide a place for Midfield residents to hold large meetings, play tennis, volleyball and basketball. We don’t have a building large enough to house a large meeting. This proposed ($200,000) Armory will not look like Armories in the past. This will be of a new modern design.” After a public hearing, the proposal with petitions went to the City Council and was rejected.
During the Breland administration a small building was started across the road from the pool bathhouse to house crafts programs. The property lines between the park and the bordering service station on the highway were very erratic. Part of the foundation had already been laid before it was realized that they were building on part of the service station property. The project was abandoned.
When Bill Waldrop regained control of the administration again in the 1968 election, the people of Midfield were demanding a Community Center. European Health Spa built a new spa and fitness area from the ground up next door to City Hall in the building that is now Kwik Pawn Shop. The spa offered complimentary memberships to the Mayor and City Council and Mayor Waldrop took full advantage.
The Mayor loved the spa so much that he wanted all Midfield residents to have access to the kind of exercise machines and luxuries that the spa offered, so the final design for the $250,000 Community Center for the park included a large gym surrounded by four separate spa and fitness areas; one each for men, women, girls, and boys. Each area had it’s own fully equipped exercise room, steam room, dressing room, rest rooms and showers. The ladies and mens areas also had dry heat suanas. Across the front of the center there was the office, conference rooms, a kitchen, restrooms and a classroom.
When the building was near completion in early 1970, the search was on for someone with spa experience to run the center. Lynn was the exercise instructor at the Midfield spa who helped Mayor Waldrop with his exercise program. He was first to be approached. Ray Tipton, owner of the spa chain, got wind of the offer and offered Lynn a new health spa to manage. Lynn declined the Mayor’s offer and choose the health spa offer instead.
Buck Williams (B.Y. Williams Jr.) was a 28-year-old martial artist and long time reident of Midfield. He had also managed European Health Spa in Eastlake, which was the biggest spa in Tipton’s chain. When Buck heard about the community center opening and Lynn (a man that Buck had helped to train) had been offered the job and refused it, he immediately applied for the job. After an interview with Mayor Waldrop and Councilman Ray Parmer, Buck was hired to manage the new Community Center and the rest of the Park and Recreation Department. Assisting would be Mickey Thomas and Brenda Johnson. Buck opened the new Midfield Community Center on June 1, 1970 and would serve as Supt. Parks and Recreation for the next 30 years.
When the Community Center opened up it was an immediate success. For the first time the Midfield residents had a year-round facility with programs for girls, boys, women and men. Many people can look back with fond memories of past programs like golden glove boxing, mens basketball, skate night, and the haunted house. Other programs offered were girls gymnastics, dance, piano, guitar, judo, karate, aikido, ceramics, plaster crafts, aerobics, youth basketball, the Leisure Club for seniors, and of course the exercise rooms.
During the Jackson administration, major renovations were made to the Community Center building, to make it more versatile. One of the under-used boys and girls spa areas was eleminated with the remaining area being alternated between boy’s days and girl’s days. This made room for a badly needed instructional area. The small ladies and mens fitness and spa areas were combined for a much more spacious shared facility.
In 1974 a house was purchased and demolished on Grant St. for construction of a new road to the park and on October 16, 1974, Breland Dr. was dedicated.
About 1974 John Olvie got a group of girls and parents together to start girls softball. In 1976 Donald Wright, Carlton McWhorter and other parents formed the Midfield Girls Softball Association. Later that year they affiliated with the Dixie Girls Softball Association and began formal league play as the Midfield Dixie Girls Softball Association. All games were away (mostly at Minor) until the City built a field for them in 1977.
In 1985 two new tennis courts were built across from the Community Center, bringing the tennis program up to a total of four courts.
During the 90s youth sports began to decline. The following plea from the Supt. Parks and Recreation in the 1998-99 activities calendar describes the condition: “Dear Parents, We are faced with critical times in our volunteer youth sports programs. I can remember when I was constantly arbitrating disputes between the Youth Football and the Youth Soccer over the use of the shared field. Now both of those programs are gone. I can remember when it was such a privilege and honor to be a youth league officer that elections were held for these positions. Now these offices go to those who are willing to take them. I can remember when coaches were so plentiful that not everyone who wanted to coach could get a team. Now not every team can get a coach.”
In 1998, after 40 years of service and neglected needs for major renovations, the pool was closed down. About the same time youth sports also all but died out. All that was left was a Dizzy Dean team and boys basketball. On Jan. 1st 2000, Buck Williams retired as Supt. Parks and Recreation after 30 years of service. Williams was replaced by Mark Lucas from the Homewood PARD. That year, Buck ran for City Council on a platform to build a new water playground facility and won.
In 2001 a savior of youth sports emerged. Terry Adams had both the drive and the contacts to revive youth sports. With the help of a $30,000 budget from the City Council over a two-year period to restore the facilities, and with dedicated volunteers like Nathan Hutton and Reginald Wilson, Terry began with a successful football program, and then went on to youth soccer, basketball and baseball. Today youth sports is back.
Mark Lucas resigned to take another job in June 2001. Leonard Maye took over the department on Sept. 22, 2002.
On June 18, 2009 the Richardson administration dissolved the Parks & Recreation Dept. as a department and placed management of the parks and community center under the Supt. Public Works.