Renderings of the outside and the inside of Owls Park, the baseball stadium designed by PryorMorrow, of Columbus, that the Mississippi University for Women has started to raise funds to build. The stadium will be located to the south of Pohl Gymnasium. Photo by: Mississippi University for Women Athletic Media Relations
December 2, 2018 12:01:26 AM
Two years ago, Jason Trufant had a vision for the Mississippi University for Women's return to intercollegiate athletics.
Trufant, who was hired as the school's director of athletics, talked to groups in the Golden Triangle to increase awareness about the revival of women's sports and the addition to men's sports to the four-year school in Columbus. He discovered a fertile ground for growth in a community ripe with athletic tradition in numerous sports.
Trufant also realized baseball is one of the most popular sports in the Golden Triangle. He hopes the next step in The W's evolution taps into that popularity and helps it build its fledgling baseball program.
On Wednesday, two years after one of his initial speaking engagements at the Kiwanis Club, Trufant was back to show off designs for construction of a baseball stadium on The W's campus.
"With the focus of the project being private donations, it is really sky's the limit to how fast you want to go," Trufant said. "The main focus is the field. Once you get the field and fencing in, you just go. I think that's important to have something physically on the ground to build around."
Designed by PryorMorrow, of Columbus, Owls Park will be located south of Pohl Gymnasium. It will feature an artificial turf playing surface, LED stadium lights, seating for 500 behind home plate, and a press box. A 20-foot outfield fence will enclose the playing surface and help the facility fit nicely in between Pohl Gymnasium and Garrett Tennis Court.
Trufant said the first phase of the estimated $5 million complex will be the field, bullpens, dugouts, and lights. Seating, a press box, a brick entrance way and surrounding brick pillars, and parking will highlight phase two. The final phase will add and cover seating as well as add a main concourse, bathrooms, and concession to the grandstand.
Trufant said other amenities could be included to complete the project.
"I am excited to see how quickly and how productively we can put this together and do what is right for the student-athletes and the campus," Trufant said.
Trufant praised Mike Taylor and PryorMorrow for their help in developing a vision for the venue, which he hopes will be one the community and people throughout the state will be able to use.
"When people see what the purpose of the facility is, I think they will understand what the end result needs to be," Trufant said. "I don't want to close the doors. We want to protect the investment, without a doubt, but I think it is important for as many people to be on campus as possible and to see what we can do as a university."
Trufant said work already has started to raise money for the project. He said he would love to see a field on the campus "within a couple of years," but he didn't set a timetable. He said The W won't do anything until it is ready to move forward.
To that end, Trufant praised the school administration and his staff for supporting the effort behind the construction of Owls Park.
"It's all a tribute to the staff," Trufant said. "They just work hard. Without the staff we have, we can't be where we are. Without the administrative support that we have, we couldn't be where we are."
Earlier this year, The W completed installation of artificial turf at the Don Usher Softball Complex and renovated the venue for that program's return to the field. The softball and baseball teams then wrapped up the 2017-18 school year by finishing fifth at the United States Collegiate Athletic Conference (USCAA) World Series in Pennsylvania.
"Baseball and softball in the South are as big as anything else," Trufant said. "When you invest in those two sports, you not only see great numbers come to your institution for those two sports, but you also get the ancillary benefits of other students coming to see those events being played and to be a part of that culture. Investing like we have in athletics and continuing that progression will only do wonders for the university."
In 2018-19, the return of women's basketball and the addition of men's basketball have generated added enthusiasm in an athletic department that now features 12 programs.
In 2019-20, Trufant said The W plans to add indoor and outdoor track and field for men and women and lacrosse for women. He said the addition of 185 student-athletes for the 12 sports currently offered has more than covered the costs of funding an athletic program that is working through the application phase of becoming a NCAA Division III member.
Trufant hopes the number of student-athletes will grow to 250-275 in the next three years as The W completes its roster of intercollegiate athletic programs. Until then, he will continue to raise awareness about sports at The W and to help make Owls Park a reality.
"When you start talking about building facilities, you have hit another level," Trufant said. "You're talking about creating a great place to play. We're at that point. We're adding structures rather than people. That's pretty cool."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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