Upgrades are continuing at the Sumrall Sports Complex off Mississippi 42 with the help of an additional $600,000 recently received by the city courtesy of the Mississippi House of Representatives.
On Aug. 23, work began on Phase 2 of the complex project, which will bring tennis facilities and a second soccer field - along with some other facilities - to the site, which has seen extensive work over the last several months.
“It was approved a couple of weeks ago to begin the second phase, and work started,” Mayor William Joel Lofton said. “I think it’s a great thing that we’re able to start right now.
“Of course, the start would be land clearing and surveys, and some engineering work will have to go in to make sure that we can maximize the use of the space. So it’s not that we’ll have tennis courts available within a month or two; it’s a little longer-term process than that. But we’re trying to do this the best way possible, and make sure that we can use every bit of available space we’ve got there.”
Although several weather issues caused delays on Phase 1 of the Sumrall Sports Complex back in March, officials were able to complete new driveway, a parking lot and striping for the site. In early 2020, several loads of dirt were installed at the soccer field to help with some long-standing drainage issues.
However, the dirt settled in an improper fashion, in part because of the constant rain and in part because the work was conducted too quickly. Since then, however, the entire surface of the playing field has been redone.
“They had to regrade it, put a new green on it, put material in there that was more sandy and absorbent,” former Mayor Heath Sumrall said. ‘They re-sodded it, and they were able to save the drainage that was used before, so they used that.
“They had to scrap all the previous sod that was on it. That had to go because they had to put a new surface out and grade it to the percentage where the surface water that didn’t absorb would drain off."
Now that those issues are cleared up - and with the help of the new funding - the city and the Lamar County School District also have entered into a contract that will allow the Sumrall High School soccer team to use the field for their upcoming season.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the community,” Lofton said. “Of course, the school is excited about the opportunity to have a facility that is dedicated to soccer use.
“For the last few years, they’ve had to share practice space facilities and fields of play with other sports, but this will give the school the opportunity to have dedicated space for their team. So I think that’s a great thing, and the school district has been very supportive - along with the superintendent - in working together to have a solid agreement that will give them priority on that field.”
Also in the works is a youth soccer program, which officials hope will follow shortly after the high school season.
“Probably, the first soccer that field will see is going to be the high school soccer season, simply because that’s just in line with when it’s going to be complete and accepted,” Lofton said. “In the coming year, we would hope to have a youth soccer program for the kids in our area that are interested in the sport, and give them an opportunity to learn and develop skills.
"Maybe, eventually, they can get a spot on that high school team.”
The $600,000 was secured with the help of District 101 Representative Kent McCarty and District 41 Senator Joey Fillingane, who has been supporting the project for the last several years. Previously, Fillingane helped receive funding for work at the sports complex under two initiatives: $500,000 through the BP Settlement Bill and $2 million from Senate Bill 3065.
Under Senate Bill 3065, Sumrall received $2 million for its recreational facilities, part of $207 million in state-issued bonds for several projects and educational institutions throughout the state. The University of Southern Mississippi received $13.3 million of those funds, which were earmarked for three areas of improvement at the university: renovations at the Cook Library, transit improvements and renovations at the Kinesiology Building.
The soccer field was originally started by a private organization, which was assisted in its efforts by Lamar County officials. After Fillingane secured the funds, the town was asked to take over the site.
“This (new funding) actually came through the House of Representatives, so Representative Kent McCarty played a big role in this, but of course Senator Fillingane continues to support the project,” Lofton said. “As this was initiated in the House, this was some good work by Representaive McCarty."