Tennis center faces more controversy in Oxford

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – OXFORD – The planned expansion of the John Leslie Tennis Complex has raised a controversy that has nothing to do with tennis.
On one side are the city of Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi, who have a joint agreement to add 12 new courts to the existing eight courts for the use of all three entities. The expansion would displace three practice fields in the Hank Aaron baseball complex, built decades ago with Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant monies – a loss that leaders of an elite youth baseball program say is unacceptable.
Russell Pratt, a coach and board member of the Yalobusha Giants, a travel team “basically for kids that want to play against better competition,” says Oxford has too few practice fields already.
The club website claims players from cities as far away as Amory, Southaven and Tunica, and those nonresidents lead to another point of contention.
Pratt and some of his colleagues contend that LWCF funding of the Hank Aaron Complex means the city would have to replace those fields. The tennis center expansion plan includes two new practice fields and an indoor batting facility at FNC Park.
Meanwhile, Oxford Park Commission members have considered fees for non-OPC teams at its facilities, but Pratt believes they would have to charge OPC teams on an equal basis. Besides, he contends, the LWCF rules forbid discrimination against nonresidents.
Oxford Park Commission member Rhea Tannehill moved at a meeting on Wednesday to table consideration of the fee structure and rules for travel teams.
“Obviously, we can’t move forward until we know what the LWCF rules require in this situation,” he said.
Oxford Mayor George “Pat” Patterson said the city doesn’t owe the traveling baseball clubs the same loyalty that it does local residents. Any legal problems with the tennis expansion will be solved, he said, and, “We’re going to go right ahead and put it in.”
Pratt contends regional teams that come to Oxford to play the Giants already contribute $120,000 to $150,000 a year in tournament fees to FNC Park, plus tourism tax and sales tax.
“They’ll have 70 teams up here on any given weekend, and they’ll pay $250 a team to play,” he said. “After all we do and all the money we generate, they want to charge us to use the (practice fields).”
Oxford recently met requirements for new public open recreational property to convert LWCF-funded athletic facilities into a Humane Society shelter. City Attorney Paul Watkins said while some questions are yet to be answered, he believes the tennis center will similarly meet those requirements.
“The funny thing is, tennis is more public than baseball,” he said. “We’re doing with the land what we’re supposed to be doing with the land.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com
On one side are the city of Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi, who have a joint agreement to add 12 new courts to the existing eight courts for the use of all three entities. The expansion would displace three practice fields in the Hank Aaron baseball complex, built decades ago with Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant monies – a loss that leaders of an elite youth baseball program say is unacceptable.
Russell Pratt, a coach and board member of the Yalobusha Giants, a travel team “basically for kids that want to play against better competition,” says Oxford has too few practice fields already.
The club website claims players from cities as far away as Amory, Southaven and Tunica, and those nonresidents lead to another point of contention.
Pratt and some of his colleagues contend that LWCF funding of the Hank Aaron Complex means the city would have to replace those fields. The tennis center expansion plan includes two new practice fields and an indoor batting facility at FNC Park.
Meanwhile, Oxford Park Commission members have considered fees for non-OPC teams at its facilities, but Pratt believes they would have to charge OPC teams on an equal basis. Besides, he contends, the LWCF rules forbid discrimination against nonresidents.
Oxford Park Commission member Rhea Tannehill moved at a meeting on Wednesday to table consideration of the fee structure and rules for travel teams.
“Obviously, we can’t move forward until we know what the LWCF rules require in this situation,” he said.
Oxford Mayor George “Pat” Patterson said the city doesn’t owe the traveling baseball clubs the same loyalty that it does local residents. Any legal problems with the tennis expansion will be solved, he said, and, “We’re going to go right ahead and put it in.”
Pratt contends regional teams that come to Oxford to play the Giants already contribute $120,000 to $150,000 a year in tournament fees to FNC Park, plus tourism tax and sales tax.
“They’ll have 70 teams up here on any given weekend, and they’ll pay $250 a team to play,” he said. “After all we do and all the money we generate, they want to charge us to use the (practice fields).”
Oxford recently met requirements for new public open recreational property to convert LWCF-funded athletic facilities into a Humane Society shelter. City Attorney Paul Watkins said while some questions are yet to be answered, he believes the tennis center will similarly meet those requirements.
“The funny thing is, tennis is more public than baseball,” he said. “We’re doing with the land what we’re supposed to be doing with the land.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com