C-USA tourney threatens MHSAA at Trustmark

PEARL – With the Conference USA college baseball tournament expected to be played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park the next three years, the Mississippi High School Activities Association is taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
The MHSAA is waiting to see if it can continue to hold its baseball state championship series at the Atlanta Braves’ Double-A affiliate’s ballpark. The home of the Mississippi Braves, Trustmark Park has hosted the MHSAA state baseball championship series for all classifications since 2006.
Both the Conference USA tournament and MHSAA championship series are played every May, and with a minor league baseball team that plays at least 15 games at home during that month, it would be very difficult to schedule all three events at the same venue in the same month. Not to mention, the playing surface at Trustmark Park may not be able to withstand that many games.
So with the Braves’ Double-A team having first rights to the use of the field and a NCAA Division I tournament on the verge of being played there, the MHSAA baseball championships may be the odd man out.
The MHSAA already had to hold this year’s baseball championship series more than a week later than it had in the past due to a scheduling mix-up with the Mississippi Braves, Dr. Ennis Proctor, the high school association’s executive director, said.
“We’ve tried to stay in contact,” Proctor said of trying to schedule future MHSAA baseball championship series with the Mississippi Braves and the Trustmark Park officials. “It’s too early to tell. We hope we’ll play here. It’s been a great venue.
“Of course, these are all high school teams from Mississippi, and I don’t know what they’ve done about this Conference USA (tournament). All I know is what I read in the paper. Nobody ever contacted us or let us know anything. Hopefully we can work it out to where we can come back.”
Spectrum Events, a subsidiary of Jackson-area developer Spectrum Capital, brought forth the proposal to the C-USA athletic directors that would bring the conference’s baseball tournament to Trustmark Park for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.
All that Spectrum Events – a company that brings events to Trustmark Park and is an affiliate of W.G. Yates & Sons Construction, the company responsible for the building of Trustmark Park – needs now for its proposal to turn into a reality is a vote of approval from the conference’s presidents, which is expected to go the company’s way.
“Hopefully, they will see it our way and invite us back,” Proctor said. “I understand that they are trying to work a contract out (with Conference USA) and all those things. I knew nothing about that. I guess they didn’t feel like that they were obligated to us. They still haven’t contacted me.”
Despite not knowing for sure if the stadium can be used in the coming seasons for the high school championship series, Proctor said the Mississippi Braves want the MHSAA to continue its use of the Pearl ballpark.
“I’ve seen the people in charge,” he said. “I think the stadium itself, the Braves people want us back in here. They want us back because we have had good cooperation with them.
“So, hopefully I will be hearing something from the other folks soon.”

Back in the day
So what did the MHSAA do before playing its baseball championship series at Trustmark Park?
The high school teams would play their state championship series at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, and before that, the teams would play traditional home-and-away series like they currently do for the opening, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
At least one coach in Northeast Mississippi would be in favor of the MHSAA having to go back to using a home-and-away series format for its best-of-three state championship series.
Amory’s Chad Williams certainly thinks playing at a top-notch facility, such as Trustmark Park, is a tremendous experience, but he is more of a baseball traditionalist and loves the idea of playing a true home game during the state championship series.
“I would have loved to play at Amory,” Williams said after his team lost to St. Stanislaus in Game 2 of this year’s Class 4A state championship series. “I know they (St. Stanislaus) would have hit one or two balls that would have definitely been out of Amory, but so would we.
“Having things at your own home site, it would definitely, I think, be a home-field advantage. Of course, if we were to go down there (to St. Stanislaus), I know it would be the same for them.
“Anytime you can play at your home place it’s great.”
While Williams would greatly appreciate playing in front of a jam-packed pro-Panthers crowd in Amory, he was certainly impressed with the Trustmark field.
“I was talking to the groundskeeper beforehand (Game 2),” the Amory coach said, “and I told him they’ve done a great job with this. It’s amazing, especially with as many games that have been played here this week and the way it still looks.”
When asked how Trustmark Park is going to be able to handle a college baseball tournament in addition to the Mississippi Braves’ home games and other baseball events, a stadium official said they will worry about that when the time comes.

A great draw
One thing the MHSAA has going for them, when it comes to proving why its worthy of playing its state championship series at Trustmark Park, is the fact that the series can draw many people from all over the state.
“It’s a great venue,” Proctor said. “The kids love it. It’s great for the state of Mississippi. It’s all Mississippi high school kids and these kids support the Braves. They identify with the Braves.”
And Proctor is not a firm believer in the Conference USA tournament being able to outdraw the MHSAA baseball championship series by a landslide.
“You want to come back, that’s for sure,” the MHSAA director said. “I don’t think Conference USA will draw any better – probably not as good as we do, really, because you got only one Mississippi team in there and that’s the University of Southern Mississippi. …
“There’s a lot of difference. If you bring an East Carolina (University) – and I am not picking on East Carolina, but somebody like that – then you’re not going to have many fans down here for that. I’m sure they will give it some thought, maybe, before they sign a contract.”

Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572
or john.wilbert@djournal.com

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal