Spring stadium deal a positive sign as Huntsville eyes upgrades

Josh Criswell/The ItemPictured, the Huntsville Hornets' home baseball field at Kate Barr Ross Park.

A little outside help can go a long way.

In the case of Huntsville athletics, recent developments just south of the area have provided the Hornets with reason for optimism as they look into the possibility of bringing their baseball and softball facilities up to par with their District 20-5A competition.

Spring Independent School District announced a naming rights deal for its new football stadium earlier this month. For exclusive naming rights to the stadium and its community center, Planet Ford will pay the school district $750,000 over the course of 10 years.

"What we get back is knowing that we're giving back to the community,” Planet Ford general manager and partner Shawn Burns said, according to KPRC 2 Houston. “There's nothing that we want back in return other than to know that we're a good partner."

So where does this recent naming rights deal intersect with the Hornets?

The Item has learned that Huntsville is in the early stages of exploring what it would take to bring a new baseball and softball complex to campus. The teams currently practice and play their home games at city-owned Kate Barr Ross Park, located roughly three miles from the school.

Athletics director Rodney Southern met with boosters and other parents earlier this summer for preliminary discussions on the topic, with plans for another meeting in the coming month. Both Southern and superintendent Dr. Scott Sheppard are quick to note, however, that any potential plans are still in their infancy.

“You have to look at land, you have to look at architects and you have to look at what the fees are for all that type of stuff,” Southern said. “It's obviously not something that would be ready by next year, but we've gotta have a plan. These kids deserve an opportunity like that.

“Our next step will be to discuss possibilities of donations, and then what we would be talking about as far as a dollar amount. We aren't there yet.”

“That would be a long-term dream of ours,” Sheppard added. “We will be forming a long-range facility study community group early in the fall, looking at all of our facility needs … if that community committee determines that we have some athletic facility needs, it could become part of our long-range plan.”

The one thing that could expedite this process? Outside funding.

And while there may not be a prospective individual partner of Planet Ford’s scale, there are an array of potential entities to team up with and transform this long-term goal into a reality.

“Partnerships can make those things happen faster,” Sheppard said. “Whether it's partnerships with other entities like the cities itself, or businesses or foundations. We certainly have a couple of pretty large foundations with a footprint in Huntsville's boundaries that would be great partners for a project like that.”

While Southern and Sheppard both speak positively of what the city has provided the school, they also recognize certain drawbacks that the Hornets’ current facility situation presents. Southern points to potential dangers on the road as student-athletes commute daily to practice, as Sheppard acknowledges that off-campus facilities put economically disadvantaged students at a further disadvantage.

With the arrival of a new baseball coach in Justin Jennings, who was tabbed to lead the team earlier this month, the Hornets are seeking to invigorate a program that has notched just two district wins in the past two years. In softball, Huntsville will look to continue its success under head coach Morgan Bryan, who led the team back to the playoffs last season in her first year at the helm.

One of Jennings’ early goals for the program is to show ‘a willingness to change.’ This certainly includes, but is not limited to, taking steps toward better facilities — something the coach hopes can help spur sustained interest in Huntsville baseball.

“We're going to have to get things better here,” Jennings said. “I think with everything that's going on, and getting the ball rolling on a new facility, that'll obviously help get more interest.

“It's important for people to see a willingness to change. Even aside from a new facility, if people can see us doing things at the high school to make the cage area better and whatnot, as well as up there (at Kate Barr Ross Park), it'll be big.”