New sports complex draws rave reviews
By Peter Rebhahn, Star-Times
The new Woodside Sports Complex opened for play last weekend with 31 youth baseball teams from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota competing in the inaugural tournament at the new facility
And while the few thousand people who came to Juneau County for the Woodside Ho Down made it one of the county’s bigger public events in recent years, the man who built the complex said they haven’t seen anything yet.
“This is a soft opening,” said developer Damon Zumwalt. “Wait until we bring big tournaments in. We’ll bring 20, 30, 40, 50,000 people into the
The sports complex is still a work in progress. It now consists of four
artificial turf baseball diamonds with dugouts and electronic scoreboards, as well as batting cages, a concession stand and related facilities.
When complete, the sports complex could have more than a dozen baseball and softball fields and as many as 20 soccer fields. An indoor basketball and volleyball facility is also planned.
“This is just the beginning,” Zumwalt said. “We’re only a
fraction of the way done.”
On Saturday morning, under cloudy skies that occasionally dropped light rain, it was tough to find anyone who didn’t give the facility and its quick-draining artificial turf playing fields a thumbs-up.
“It’s a beautiful complex,” said Jason Ryan, coach of the Stateline Firebirds team from Beloit. “As much rain as we had yesterday, to be able to get games in is amazing.”
Another coach, John Becker of La Crosse, coach of the Holmen Vikings team, said he doubted the tournament could have gone off as planned on natural grass fields.
“The facility is fantastic,” Becker said.
Shawn Lenze of Mauston, whose son Jared was playing for one
of three Mauston Golden Eagles teams competing in the tournament, said he believes the sports complex will provide a “big boost” to the area’s
“It’s something special in the Mauston area,” Lenze said.
The complex has a fan in 13-year-old Jared Lenze.
“I love the turf, I love everything about the field,” Jared Lenze said.
“They’re sweet fields to play on. Look nice, too.”
Tonya Surges of Lake Geneva said as she watched her son Colton pitch for the Three Lakes Hitmen that her family had attended several other youth tournaments this year before last weekend.
“The fields here are beautiful,” Surges said.
But Surges, who stayed at a motel in Mauston, said she’d return for the
baseball and not for the proximity to the attractions of Wisconsin Dells.
“I don’t think that going to the Dells while they’re playing games is a good idea at all,” Surges said. “You’re just getting them tired. They don’t really go hand-in-hand as far as I’m concerned.”
At least one spectator at the sports complex Saturday hopes that most
Woodside visitors won’t see it the way Surges does.
“This is really going to be an economic boon for the area,” Wisconsin Dells Mayor Brian Landers said.
Zumwalt has long said that the proximity of the Dells, with its tourist
attractions, restaurants and abundant motel and hotel rooms, was an important part of his business plan in locating the complex at Mauston.
Landers said he thinks those who doubted Zumwalt’s plan, including some on the Juneau County Board of Supervisors, will be proven wrong.
Zumwalt is also developing athletic fields in the Dells and last year, when
the county board rejected a plan that called for county backing that would have helped Zumwalt borrow money for the project, Landers made no secret of the fact that he hoped Zumwalt would move the entire complex to the Dells.
On Saturday, Landers said he’s a patient man. “There’ll be a comparable thing in the Dells in time,” Landers said.
Brenda Fredrick, director of concierge services for the sports complex, said she booked nearly 200 rooms for last weekend’s tournament, including some in the Dells for visitors who said they’d have preferred to stay in Mauston.
“If I’d had more in Mauston I could have filled them,” Frederick said.
Barb Weinberg of Annapolis, Md., who plans and runs female field hockey
events nationwide, said she liked what she saw.
“I’ve never seen baseball fields like this, very high class,” Weinberg said.
“We’re planning to do tournaments and clinics here.”
Jarrod Washburn from the Burnett County village of Webster in northwest
Wisconsin knows a few things about baseball.
Washburn played major league baseball and was starting pitcher in two games of the 2002 World Series in which his California Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants in seven games.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Washburn, whose two sons were competing for a Webster area team. “I can’t wait to see when it’s all done but it’s off to a great start. I haven’t heard a kid yet that didn’t say ‘Wow!’ when he got here.”
D.J. Wabick is an official from ABW Cos., which operates United States
Specialty Sports Association, the company that plans to channel organized youth tournaments to Woodside.
“This is, without a doubt, the best facility, if not in the entire nation,
the Midwest,” Wabick said. “But I would say it’s probably got to be the top playing facility I’ve ever seen. If there’s a nicer one I’ve never seen it.”
Wabick said the wet spring in the Midwest has led to many disrupted
tournaments due to soggy playing fields and predicted that word of the
advantages of the synthetic turf fields at Woodside would make it a magnet for tournament planners.
“When kids come here they know they’re going to be playing, they know they have the opportunity to play for a championship,” Wabick said.
On Friday evening, when the Mauston Golden Eagle team he coaches showed up for its first game, sports complex Manager Lance Massey said he had a message:
“‘Walk a little taller tonight, boys,’” Massey said he told team members.
“‘They’re all coming to your hometown to play.’”
Zumwalt said that the Woodside Sports Complex already stands out from the competition because of its rural location, which he said differs from the “sterile” playing fields surrounded by concrete that makes for a just-OK experience at some other youth sports complexes.
“It’s going to give them a great experience that they’re going to remember better than any other complex they go to because it’s more,” Zumwalt said. “It’ll be special.”
Eventually, Zumwalt said, area municipalities will come to see the sports
complex as the opportunity he believes it is.
“This should bring all the communities together, because this is going to
make this area, this region a capital for youth entertainment,” Zumwalt said. “I think we can do some of the best tournaments in the world here.”