Atlanta media has been in a frenzy hyping the city’s new sports venues — the Braves’ new stadium opened to great acclaim, even if getting there is a challenge; the Falcons’ new home is delayed by problems with its fancy new roof and may not open until fall.
Meanwhile, Gainesville celebrated its own new sports facility this spring. Brenau University on Tuesday dedicated its new Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park in New Holland. The Golden Tigers marked the occasion with a doubleheader softball sweep of Faulkner University to clinch the Southern States Athletic Conference regular-season championship, their first since 2009.
The facility was built with funding from the Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation. Doug and Kay Ivester, who both grew up in New Holland, were on hand to christen the facility named for her father. Doug Ivester, former Coca-Cola boss, is a Brenau trustee.
“I can tell you if Ernest were here today, he would be thrilled with the rebirth of New Holland that is taking place,” Doug Ivester said.
The sports complex is a key step forward in Brenau’s growth from a small-town women’s college to a university with a diverse footprint in the community and a wide spectrum of campus life to offer students.
School president Ed Schrader commented on that, saying “we’re not following the path of all these women’s schools in the last 30 years who have either ceased to exist or gone co-ed.” Almost a quarter of the university’s 830 students now are involved in its sports programs.
The Golden Tigers now enjoy a true homefield edge, and they’ve taken advantage of it. Tuesday’s victories at Pacolet Milliken Field, named for the parent mill companies, lifted them to a school record 45-5 overall, including a perfect 24-0 in league play with two games to play. They are ranked No. 2 in the nation among NAIA schools.
The shiny new facility already has helped the team’s recruiting efforts, according to coach Devon Thomas. When potential student-athletes see such a high-class venue, it helps seal the deal.
The softball field is built on the same site as the old mill diamond where teams in the old Northeast Georgia industrial leagues produced some legendary local ballplayers. Thomas himself grew up in the area and both of his paternal grandparents worked at the mill, his grandfather playing on one of those teams.
“I had goose bumps today when I came out here, just knowing who all played on this field,” Thomas said. “(Baseball Hall of Famer and Demorest native) Johnny Mize is one of the former major league baseball players who played right here on this field, and now we’ve brought the field back to life and continued the game of softball on it.”
The complex marks the first phase of a $4.4 million project. Coming next is the funding push to built facilities for track and field, soccer and lacrosse teams.
The Golden Tigers actually played their first game at their new home in February, with freshman pitcher Eli Daniel breaking it in that day with a no-hitter in a win over Talladega College. It’s a huge step forward for the team, which previously played on Gainesville Parks and Rec fields.
Gov. Nathan Deal, whose wife Sandra Deal is also a New Holland native, sent a letter of congratulations to the university and the community for its “outstanding example.”
It is indeed, and a source of pride for both the university and the booming historic New Holland area. We applaud Brenau, the Ivesters, Thomas and his players for the positive impact the new facility and winning team bring to the area.
Local sports fans who aren’t eager to spend a week’s wages and fight Atlanta traffic to watch millionaire athletes should take time to check out the new venue and a Golden Tigers team that doesn’t disappoint. There’s a home team we can all get behind.
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