CITY SAYS MUNICIPAL STADIUM WILL BE ‘SUBSTANTIALLY COMPLETE’ BY ‘OPENING DAY;’ FIRST PITCH OF 2016 IS MARCH 12

Kokomo Municipal Stadium on Feb. 4, 2016.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium on Feb. 4, 2016.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – The City of Firsts has a gem of a multi-purpose athletic stadium in downtown Kokomo, but 21 months after the first announcement that Municipal Stadium would be built in a flood plain along the Wildcat Creek, it is still not finished. A quick glance at the facility reveals one of two main concession stands, locker rooms, batting cages, office space, a concourse and a gift shop are still under construction.

When Mayor Greg Goodnight announced the city’s intentions to build a stadium on May 12, 2014, it was met with a lot of praise from the sports community. The $11.5 million project included $2.5 million for flood mitigation and $9 million for stadium construction. The City of Kokomo also announced it would pay off the $6 million parking garage five years early.

“Little did we know that the need for comprehensive flood mitigation and the need to re-establish a first class baseball facility would eventually merge into one of the largest, new developments in downtown’s history,” Goodnight said in the original press release. “Kokomo is paying off a $6 million debt for the new parking garage five years early, repurposing a flood prone area, building a baseball stadium that will be enjoyed by generations, and beginning to alleviate flooding concerns in central Kokomo.”

The city promised baseball would be played less than one year after the announcement – the following spring – but the Kokomo Wildkats never recorded a single out on the synthetic turf field.

“Stadium construction is expected to begin soon and open in April 2015 in time for next year’s high school baseball season,” the city stated in May 2014. “Four Howard County high schools have committed to playing baseball in the new stadium.”

By the time construction started, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security – representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency – declared the city could not build on several proposed plots of land due to Hazard Mitigation Grants being awarded for the area. But the city continued construction around those plots while fighting FEMA in the courts and Senator Jim Buck in the State Senate after he proposed Senate Bill 100, which would have essentially halted construction. Eventually, the city and FEMA mended fences and the federal government allowed the turf to be rolled in time for the Jackrabbits season to start.

Unfortunately, during the political fight, construction was slowed on several areas which resulted in the stadium being plagued with long lines at the concession stands and a look of a work in progress. Despite the construction, good news hit in late-June when Ballpark Digest named Kokomo Municipal Stadium the Best Summer Collegiate Ball Park in America. And fans poured in as the Jackrabbits were third in the Prospect League with 44,181 tickets sold.

But by the end of the inaugural Jackrabbits season, construction was still not finished and the biggest complaint from fans was the up-to three innings wait in the concession stand line – which was a city construction issue and not a Jackrabbits logistical downfall.

After the baseball season, the stadium was opened to soccer, and the IHSAA played a girls Class A sectional in the new venue while construction continued. By the time the city and Jackrabbits ownership – MKE Sports & Entertainment – announced the formation of the Kokomo Mantis FC soccer team, many wondered if the stadium would be done by the following spring. At the announcement of the soccer team in September 2015, Goodnight said KMS would be done by the next baseball season.

“We will be done,” exclaimed Goodnight. “We are ready to put the turf into the bullpens. We will get it ready in time. We are now battling getting contractors to come back for a six or eight hour job. New structures are now completed or being worked on since the end of the Jackrabbits season.”

As construction continued, teams clamored to play on the synthetic turf. Purdue University (March 18-20) and the University of Evansville (March 22) both scheduled regular season NCAA Division I baseball games for the spring. The American Legion announced it would bring the Indiana state baseball finals back to Kokomo for the first time since 1996 (July 22-26). It is anticipated the IHSAA Kokomo Semi-State will also be played at KMS (June 11). And the biggest feather thus far was the Prospect League saying it would host its annual All-Star Game and festivities at the new ball park this summer (July 12-13).

But the fact remains the stadium is not done, and with Purdue scheduled to play in a little more than one month, it appears construction at the stadium will not be finished in time for baseball as promised on many occasions. The Sports Journal requested a sit-down interview with city administrators, but they would not meet the requested deadline.

“We are planning for, and fully anticipate, that Municipal Stadium will be substantially complete for Opening Day,” said City Engineer Cary Stranahan in an emailed statement.

With a little over a month until the first scheduled pitch by a Boilermaker pitcher, which is “opening day” at the stadium, it would appear the city has a long way to go until the award-winning Kokomo Municipal Stadium is “substantially complete.” But then again, substantially can be in the eye of the beholder.

(Editor’s note: After this story was published, it was announced that Kokomo Municipal Stadium would host a regular season baseball game between Manchester University and John Carroll University on March 12, thus moving up the ball park’s 2016 home opener by six days.)

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal and the public address announcer of the Kokomo Jackrabbits

KOKOMO MANTIS FC LOOKING FOR PLAYER HOST FAMILIES FOR 2016 SEASON

Kokomo Mantis 2

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – When the Kokomo Jackrabbits arrived in the City of Firsts last summer, one of the biggest obstacles was housing the players. Host families were needed to provide a place to stay for the college players during the 60-game summer schedule. Thanks to Crystal Sanburn, host family coordinator for the Rabbits and operations manager for Municipal Stadium, the program was a success and all players were cared for.

“We had a fantastic response for the Jackrabbits last year,” said Sanburn. “It was much easier to find homes this year because so many came back.”

Now in its second year of operation, the Jackrabbits will once again need host families for its players. But first, Sanburn has a more pressing need – she is also in charge of finding homes for the newest sports team to call the stadium home – the Kokomo Mantis FC soccer team of the Premier Development League. The Mantis, owned by MKE Sports & Entertainment – which also owns the Jackrabbits – will launch its inaugural season in mid-May, slightly before the baseball season.

“With two teams, we need that many more host families, but I know Kokomo is a caring community and we will find enough,” said Sanburn. “What people need to know is that these are high-quality kids from around the United States – and maybe internationally – who are mainly collegiate students.”

Sanburn said she is hopeful the large soccer community will embrace the Mantis players much like the baseball community did for the Jackrabbits players last summer. The soccer squad will consist of 18-24 collegiate-aged players. Host families can host multiple players, and she stressed that the team is on the road for half the season, so they will not be in the home every night. The soccer season is also shorter than the baseball season, and will be over by mid-July.

“There are only seven home games, and since PDL games are further away, travel times are longer than in baseball,” explained Sanburn. “The kids will be gone more than they are with the Jackrabbits. It is just a great opportunity to see someone play and try and get to the next level.”

An added incentive is host families will receive tickets to each home game for all occupants of the home and a 25 percent discount on Mantis merchandise.

“It is just another cool thing for the city to be part of,” said Sanburn. “Soccer has grown so much in Kokomo. With the Kokomo Soccer Club and other clubs; what a huge opportunity for our kids to watch Mantis players.”

The top developmental men’s league in North America, the PDL features 73 teams within four conferences across the United States and Canada. The PDL season consists of 14 regular season matches for each team and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions. The PDL has proven to be an important stepping-stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world.

Kokomo will compete in the Central Conference. The Mantis will play in the Heartland Division with teams from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and a pair of teams from Canada: Manitoba and Ontario. The Great Lakes Division includes teams from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario. PDL teams are located in 31 states and Canada.

For more information on hosting a Mantis player, contact Sanburn at (317) 694-0837 or crystals@kokomojackrabbits.com.

WILDKATS TRAVEL TO DOWNTOWN INDIANAPOLIS AND SURPRISE NO. 7 ARSENAL TECH IN BOYS HOOPS

On his birthday, Ty Sparling outhustles Arsenal Tech to a loose ball in Kokomo's upset victory.

On his birthday, Ty Sparling outhustles Arsenal Tech to a loose ball in Kokomo’s upset victory.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

INDIANAPOLIS The Kokomo Wildkats limped into downtown Indianapolis on Feb. 4 on the heels of losing three consecutive games before squeaking by in a come-from-behind victory at Class 2A Lewis Cass. So it was no wonder few gave them a chance against Class 4A No. 7 Arsenal Tech. And after a 12-0 Tech run in the first half – with Mr. Basketball candidate C.J. Walker on the bench with a “tweaked knee” – it looked like the Titans would win the first meeting between the two school since 1986. But as the old saying goes, there is a reason you play the game.

After several scoldings by Kokomo head coach Matt Moore, Kokomo came to life and rattled off a 17-0 run of its own, took command of the game by 20 points in the third quarter, then held on for dear life for a stunning 83-79 victory at Reuben Behlmer Gymnasium.

“Anytime you can win on the road and in the way we did; wow,” exclaimed a joyous Moore after the game. “Jeron (Gray) really set the tempo for us tonight, and he is sick. Jordan (Matthews) was solid and did a great job. And Ty Sparling; you have to love the kid. He has not played well on a consistent level, but he was huge tonight. As much as the other guys, we win this game because Ty came out and it was ‘T-Money’ tonight. I am happy for them because I don’t think, except for the coaching staff and a few guys on the bus, many people thought we had a legitimate shot to get this one.”

The Wildkats started the game in solid fashion, leading 9-7 midway through the first quarter. It was 17-16 Kokomo after one quarter, and 20-16 on a Sparling triple. But that is when Tech rattled off 12 consecutive points to seemingly take control 28-20. But a 9-0 Kokomo run showed the Kats were not out of the game – and neither apparently was Walker, who somehow recovered from the knee injury to enter the game in the second stanza. Kokomo led 37-29 at the half.

In the third quarter Kokomo continued to play Tech’s rim-to-rim, up-tempo style of basketball. After ending the half on a 17-1 run, it was a 20-1 jaunt before Tech scored – and before the Tech crowd knew it, Kokomo was on a 49-21 run and led by 20 (69-49) midway through the final quarter.

“I thought our guys did a great job of taking what they gave us,” said Moore. “We then had to think about when not to shoot and slow it down – I think I said at one point, ‘First to 80 wins,’ and we did.”

Kokomo was led by Matthews, who had an unconventional double-double of 23 points and 10 fouls drawn – he hit 13 free throws, including several down the stretch to help seal the win. Birthday boy Sparling dropped in 19 points on 7 for 9 accuracy. Gray ran the point and tallied 16 points, four assists and two steals. Keenen Wheeler scored 11 points and Marcelle Kenner nabbed nine boards as the Kats outrebounded the high-flying Titans 39-29.

Kokomo (9-8) is now preparing for the inaugural North Central Conference tournament, which begins Feb. 13 at Tech and McCutcheon. Kokomo battles Anderson (3-14) in the opening game at 1 p.m. at Tech. If they win, the Kats will play Tech (14-4) that evening at 7 p.m. If they lose, Kokomo plays in the ninth-place game at Memorial Gym at 11 a.m. on Feb. 20.