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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Prison inmates make progress at athletic complex

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In March, County Judge Charles Willett was hoping ball fields at the Fulton County Athletic Complex would finally be ready for limited use this summer.

But finding a way to turn grass fields into infields and finish other details looked like a tall order.

"We were going to have to get some volunteers and work a lot of lot of long weekends," Willett said.

But, April 13, a bus load of inmates from the Calico Rock Corrections Facility showed up for eight days of "spring training."

The inmates volunteer to work community projects, usually backbreaking hard labor.

Willett had called on the workers before and took a chance they could help again.

The inmates made so much progress that Willett is planning to install bases on the newly developed infields at the complex's four ball parks.

A line of inmates, standing shoulder to shoulder, began work on the first field on April 13.

They systematically used hoes to pull out and chop up grass and weeds to create a dirt infield.

The grass was gathered up and placed into a front loader and hauled off by a county highway truck.

After the grass was cleared, the infield was raked and smoothed.

"They picked up every rock in the infield," added Willett.

Over the next few days, infields were carved out on all four playing fields, which already have fences and backstops in place.

"Before the inmates arrived, Surveyor Brian Keen volunteered to establish the layout of the infields and 'shoot the lines' for baselines," said Karen Coffman, a member of the Athletic Complex Committee.

While some inmates worked on the fields, another crew painted the roofs of dugouts, which were installed in early spring.

The inmates also filled in washed out areas of the fields with fresh topsoil and reseeded two outfields, finishing their work in just five days.

"The fields are in good enough shape that teams can start practicing on them," said Willett.

The committee also hopes some T-ball or Little League games can be played on the fields this summer and, after five years of work, the first official event has been scheduled at the Athletic Complex.

"The Bank of Salem Relay For Life Team will host a co-ed softball tournament on May 7 (at the Athletic Complex)," said Bank of Salem employee Mike Kenslow.

The bank has signed up teams from local churches, schools and businesses for the tournament, which will be a fundraiser for Relay For Life.

"We decided to put on a local tournament, in hopes families and friends of team members will come and join in," said Kenslow. "We'll cook hot dogs and have a family atmosphere."

The tournament will be the first of many events at the complex, which is designed to become a community gathering space for years to come.

Besides the ball fields, basketball courts, picnic tables and grills are already in place.

A concession stand and walking trail are among features still to be developed at the park.

The biggest challenge will be to install lights at the fields, the most expensive project on the drawing board.

The Athletic Complex Committee continues to apply for grants and promote fundraising projects.

The cost of the inmates' work was a real bargain. For their labor, the county had to supply a daily lunch and snack.

"The inmates sign up for the work program to get outside in the community and to get a good lunch," said Willett.

The first day inmates enjoyed burgers and fries. One day, the county provided catfish dinners which, according to the Judge, were a big hit.

Willett also picked up Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen for a snack one day, and an excited inmate told him "it was his first DQ in nine years."

"This was a great benefit to the community," said Willett. "It's amazing what they accomplished in just a few days."

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