SIOUX CENTER—The softball field at Open Space Park in Sioux Center has been selected as top in its class in the nation.
The diamond was named Softball Field of the Year in the schools and parks division by the Sports Turf Managers Association, making it the No. 1 softball diamond at the K-12 schools and parks level across the United States.
This is the only Iowa softball field in the schools and parks category to receive this type of recognition since the award was first handed out in 1994.
This national honor also comes months after the same diamond was named Iowa’s 2019 Field of the Year.
“This award is very humbling and extremely exciting at the same time that we’re getting to this of quality of field,” said Sioux Center parks director Lee Van Meeteren. “We never expected to win this type of award, but to be recognized by our peers as having the type of field that deserves this award is an honor that I don’t take lightly.”
The STMA calls the Field of the Year awards “the industry’s highest honors,” selected out of members who manage baseball, football, soccer, softball and other sporting playing surfaces worldwide at the professional, collegiate, schools, parks and recreation levels.
A panel of 12 judges independently scored entries based on playability, appearance of surfaces, utilization of innovative solutions, effective use of budget and implementation of a comprehensive agronomic program.
Van Meeteren was not told how many fields Sioux Center was up against but was told the schools and parks category was the most competitive.
“Our committee is appreciative of your submittal and impressed by the time and effort you put into your softball field management program,” said Kim Heck, CEO of STMA. “The competition in this program was very strong, and your entry is definitely deserving of this honor.”
Sioux Center’s field edged out Blue Eagle Softball Complex at Clover School District in Clover, S.C. which earned this award three times in the past four years.
Van Meeteren will accept the honor for Sioux Center at the STMA annual Awards Banquet set for Jan. 16. The field also will be featured in a 2020 issue of SportsTurf Magazine.
He learned the news via an e-mail sent to him Nov. 5.
“I was kind of in shock, had to read it twice,” Van Meeteren said.
It’s the first time the Sioux Center Parks Department applied for the award.
“This we year felt we had an even better field than last year so we thought we’d apply,” said Van Meeteren, knowing about the award being the president of the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association and a member of the National Sports Turf Managers Association.
The parks department completed the “lengthy application process” in October through which the parks department had to share details about the field.
“Safety is the biggest thing we worry about; it’s our No. 1 priority,” Van Meeteren said. “Our efforts are not only to provide a safe, quality playing surface for our athletes and coaches, but also to manage it in an environmentally-responsible way. We take the extra step to do it the right way. It’s a strategic process to be stewardly and have a safe playing surface.”
The parks staff that cares for city grounds includes three full-time staff and up to an additional 12 part-time staff each summer.
“We do care for a lot of grounds within the city of Sioux Center but we take a lot of pride in our competitive fields that we share with the university and the high school,” Van Meeteren said. “Because a lot of other communities come here and get to play on these fields, we want to represent Sioux Center well.”
Being able to submit an application was Van Meeteren’s hope this fall.
“With the award being open to the nation, being a small town up against bigger cities, I honestly didn’t think we had a great opportunity but did feel we have a unique situation with the joint-use in our town,” Van Meeteren said.
That’s how he sold it on the application.
“This is an award for Dordt University and Sioux Center schools as well as the city of Sioux Center,” Van Meeteren said. “Being part of joint-use efforts for this community provides us the ability to have this level of facilities.”