E.A. Sports Today

Big House gets regional

Choccolocco Park to get AHSAA softball regional in 2019 and 2020; many advocated for the venue

Members of the Springville softball team celebrate winning their third straight Class 5A state title in 2017 at Choccolocco Park. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The move to bring some element of the AHSAA softball playoffs to Choccolocco Park has been successful.

The AHSAA announced today that Oxford and Florence were chosen as new sites for regional softball competition for the next two years (2019 and 2020).

The South Central Regional, held in Troy from 2009 to 2018, will move to Oxford and will be renamed the East Central Regional, but that doesn’t mean the local teams will necessarily play there.

Many of the Calhoun County teams have gone to Tuscaloosa in the past (Huntsville this year) and that city will remain the host of what is now being called the West Central Regional for 2019 and 2020. Gulf Shores is the other regional venue.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Oxford and Choccolocco to host a regional tournament,” Oxford coach Wendy McKibbin said. “There’s been a lot of great things going on in our city and our park. It’s a great opportunity for the girls to have a class act, No. 1 venue to play in. I haven’t seen anything as nice as Choccolocco Park and everything I’ve heard from people who’ve come here love it.

“We just want what’s best for our kids, an equal opportunity for everybody. A lot of people pushed for it.”

Park officials couldn’t immediately project the economic impact the regional would have on the city during its stay, but surmised it likely would be something similar to the Dixie Youth Baseball Rookie State Tournament recently held at the park.

Because of the shift in the regional locations, it wasn’t immediately known if any local teams would be playing in the regional here. McKibbin said her team, if it makes the tournament, would be playing in Florence.

McKibbin said she’d love for the Lady Jackets to play in their park, but whoever comes to Choccolocco Park can expect a high-quality experience. Park director Jack Deal said park officials would be happy with whomever is designated to play at the park; in fact, it would mean even more exposure for the park the farther away the teams were located.

“It’s kind of funny,” McKibbin said. “We have our annual tournament the same week we’ve had for the 16 years I’ve been in Oxford and it’s funny how we’re right here and we’ve got teams coming from Central Phenix City, Daphne, over the last couple years. The word’s out. People are willing to travel to play in a nice park. The City of Oxford, they do a phenomenal job.”

Choccolocco Park held the concluding innings of the “if” game of the 2017 Class 5A state championship between Springville and Scottsboro after rain suspended it in Montgomery. The event allowed Oxford officials to showcase the venue to the AHSAA in a real-time situation and brought raves from those in attendance. Even before then several coaches had advocated for some part of the event to be played there.

Deal was on hand that day. He wasn’t sure if that experience put Choccolocco Park over the top in its bid to get the regional, but, he said, “I do not think it hurt us at all.”

“I think it is great that Oxford got a regional,” Alexandria coach Brian Hess said. “I don’t know how they will draw up the regionals with one in Oxford and one in Tuscaloosa, but it would be great to be able to play there.”

Lagoon Park in Montgomery is still under contract to host the State Tournament.

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