As softball season approaches, league leaders are concerned local teams may have to play some of their games this summer without a scoreboard on some city-owned fields.

Over the past several years, four of the scoreboards at the Cadwell Sports Complex softball diamonds have been withering away, causing them to malfunction at times. Kathy Axsom, women's Amateur Softball Association commissioner for the Mitchell area, recently pushed the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to replace the aging scoreboards that date back to 1996.

However, Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell says it’s not the city’s responsibility to fund the installation of new scoreboards at the softball and baseball fields. Rather, he said it falls on the respective leagues that use the scoreboards to replace them.

“The lights flicker on and off all the time, and they are going to break down sooner or later,” Axsom said during a recent Parks and Recreation Board meeting. “What happens if they break down this year, right before let's say the state tournament?”

The condition of the four scoreboards on the west softball diamonds is an issue that Sports Complex Supervisor Jeremy Nielsen has looked into recently.

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He echoed Axsom’s concerns, adding scoreboards will likely be out of commission soon. While Nielsen said the city has the parts for the aging scoreboards to temporarily keep them operating, he agrees they are due for replacing. However, deciding who funds the replacement is an issue that’s out of his control.

“If the west side scoreboard goes down, which it likely will soon, we have the parts for it. But they are hard to find. There are parts for the scoreboard that they don’t even make anymore,” Nielsen said, noting the remaining softball scoreboards, which were installed roughly seven years ago, are in good condition. “The west side of the softball fields were built on a slough, so the scoreboard side beams keep raising up. One of them is leaning pretty bad, and there is about 3 feet of concrete above the ground that’s not supposed to be.”

Nielsen recently reached out to Daktronics and received a quote to get an idea of the costs of replacing the four scoreboards, which amounted to $4,347 for each scoreboard.

Fundraising efforts underway

As the Parks and Recreation Board discussed the city’s policy for replacing scoreboards, Powell said the “associations are responsible for raising funds to get them installed.”

“The Park Board policy is that the association raises funds and takes care of their own scoreboards. Associations providing their own scoreboard is also the standard nationwide,” he said. “We can help the associations work on raising the funds though, and we are ready and willing to do that.”

Considering the Cadwell softball fields that the women’s league utilizes to play their season of games on is also shared by several men’s softball leagues, youth baseball clubs and fastpitch leagues, Axsom feels it’s not a fair bargain asking the league she oversees to raise funds needed to replace the scoreboards, while a handful of other groups benefit from it without having to pitch in any money of their own.

“Let’s say our women’s league buys four new scoreboards, I’m not just going to hand the scoreboards over to everyone else, because our group just spent all the money to get them,” Axsom said.

Since the board meeting, the men's softball league leader has stepped up to the plate to help get fundraising efforts underway. Joe Wenzel, Mitchell men's softball league president, said replacing the scoreboards is vital to keep Mitchell's softball complex in good enough shape to continue hosting state tournaments.

As a growing number of larger South Dakota cities build and expand their softball complexes, Wenzel said it would be ideal to raise enough funds to replace the four aging scoreboards before the 2022 season. Other than the rundown scoreboards, Wenzel said the softball complex is in "good shape," pointing the canopies and fresh concrete that the city helped bring in recent years.

"Kathy (Axsom) and I have been spit balling ideas to fundraise for the scoreboards, which is great that we are on the same page. More and more cities like Spearfish and Aberdeen are building bigger softball diamonds now, so we need to keep ours in good shape to help us keep hosting state tournaments," Wenzel said. "I think we could use new scoreboards on all eight of the fields, but our fields and the whole complex are looking good. I feel that all of the entities that use the field should participate in the fundraising."

Powell shares Wenzel's sentiment of calling on all the leagues and teams that play on the softball fields to participate in fundraising for the scoreboards, noting everyone needs to “come together.”

After the recent board meeting, Powell updated the Mitchell City Council on the scoreboard issue in early April. He said the Parks and Recreation Department is actively seeking sponsors to help fund the replacement of the four scoreboards.

“We’re looking to get businesses involved and put up a sign along the fields for advertisement, which is how we help associations raise funds,” Powell said.

Although he suggested the board steer clear from replacing the scoreboards and stay in line with the facility use agreement policy, board member Andy Jerke said if the city did replace them, it would likely increase the athlete fees that softball players are subject to pay to utilize the city’s softball fields.

“The reality for the city is that we have to be at or close to our 50% (cost recovery). If the city would go out and buy these it would mean your fees to use the fields would increase,” Jerke said. “If we did replace them, it would open up a can of worms for every other sports association that may need to do the same.”

As of now, each athlete participating in a softball league that uses the city’s diamonds are charged to do so through what is known as a facility use agreement. In 2019, the city revamped its fee structure to an athlete-based fee system. Under the current fee structure, the city charges a $20 per-athlete fee for ages 13 and up and $10 for athletes 12 and under. Teams don't pay a capital improvement fee like they previously did.

Axsom cautioned the board of the potential threat that a broken scoreboard could have on the upcoming softball season, especially the state tournament. She said a broken scoreboard could put Mitchell at risk of hosting the event that draws dozens of teams to the community for two days.

“The state tournament brings in a lot of money to this city, and if we don’t have a working scoreboard, we may have to go somewhere else that does,” Axsom said. “We have to have a scoreboard that actually works per the USA Softball league standards, so what happens if it breaks down right before? That’s what I’m also concerned about. We don’t want to have to move the state tournament out of Mitchell.”