When a tornado tore through Vilonia earlier this spring, houses were destroyed, businesses were displaced, and infrastructure was damaged. The recovery and rebuilding have started in many areas, and neighboring communities are coming together to help with one area that children might miss this spring and summer.
The Vilonia City Park on Cemetery Street was hit when the tornado went through town. The park had five baseball fields, a concession stand, a small field used for soccer and a playground. The playground is still standing, but the rest of the park is nothing but rubble.
Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said it is important for the community to get the necessities re-established, but the ballpark and what the facility means to families are also important.
“The time families spend together is very special,” Firestone said. “When you see the crowds at our park, you know we are a family-oriented community. With the park shut down for the second time in three years, it has really taken a toll on our kids and taken away that special time that would be spent with friends and family at the park.”
Travis Young, program director for Cabot Parks and Recreation, lives in Vilonia and said a tornado in 2011 took the roof off the concession stand at the Vilonia City Park.
“It wasn’t a total loss back then,” he said. “Now it’s going to be an ‘all hands on deck’ thing.”
Firestone also said that in 2011, the park suffered major damage but was salvageable.
“This time, the EF4 [tornado] caused a total loss to the park,” he said. “About the only thing left was the dirt on the fields. Even that has shards of glass and debris, so the top layer will have to be removed to get rid of all the foreign objects.”
Members of the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission came up with the idea to host a baseball tournament to raise money to help rebuild the recreational facilities.
The inaugural Mid-Summer Classic Baseball Tournament will be held July 11-13 at the Richie Road Baseball Complex in Cabot. Teams in the 6U (6 years old and under), 8U, 10U and 12U age divisions are eligible to register for the Cal Ripken-affiliated event. Entry fees will be $225 per team, and there is a minimum three-game guarantee.
Young said the event organizers have tried to keep the cost down as much as possible while still raising money for Vilonia. They are working on getting field sponsorships, and some umpires have agreed to donate time for the tournament.
“We are hoping to generate $8,000 to $10,000,” Young said.
While the proceeds from the tournament are not expected to cover the entire cost of rebuilding the ballpark, Young said, the event may help buy netting or offset the cost of the new facilities in some other way.
Teams in neighboring cities, such as Lonoke and Beebe, have already expressed interest in participating in the tournament, Young said.
Firestone said the opportunity to redesign the fields, improve parking and better utilize the space is the bright side to the situation. The city is still in the cleanup process but plans to start rebuilding the park as soon as possible.
“Words can’t express how grateful we are for our neighbors opening up their parks and giving our kids the opportunity to have some fun, get away from the turmoil the tornado has created and just have a normal life for a few hours. We appreciate them so much,” he said. “The fact that they are doing a benefit tournament to raise money to help us rebuild our park is very encouraging to our community, and we will never forget their kindness.”
For more information about the tournament or to register a team, email Travis Young at email@example.com or call the Cabot Parks and Recreation office at (501) 605-1506. Registration can also be done in person at the Veterans Park Community Center, 508 N. Lincoln in Cabot.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.