HistoryUpdated Wednesday September 3, 2014 by Steven Casey.
“I won’t be happy till we have every boy in America…between the ages of 6 and 16 wearing a glove and swinging a bat.” – George Herman “Babe” Ruth
In the spring of 1958, almost a decade before there was a City of Hoover, the Bluff Park Little League was formed on Shades Mountain. It had been the dream of several area families to have a baseball league of their own as most boys in the area were having to play in Homewood or Vestavia Hills – and remember this was long before I-459 or I-65 were built. The community was growing as plans were made in the late 1950′s to widen Highway 31 southward from Birmingham and the community could support a new league.
The first year had four Major teams and two Minor teams. A field was built in the back of the Bluff Park School. The Fresh Air Farm field was improved for use too. All games were played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There were no bleachers so fans sat on the ground, in folding chairs or on a good ol’ concrete block. Carlton Lawrence was the league’s first President. Advertisements were sold to pay for the fields through a yearly program book.
Other monies were needed and were made through fundraisers like decal sales, a Mothers’ game called Mother Maulers vs. Mother Sluggers, ham dinners and square dances. The parent competitions became a yearly event. The Yankees won the first pennant, managed by Jim Tessier and R. J. Comer.
Meanwhile, early city leaders thought that things were about to change for the largely undeveloped area just south of Vestavia. In the fall of 1959, Cary Chapman was elected President. The board passed a proposal to build a new-lighted field that could be enlarged later for Pony League games. The parents of every boy contributed to this effort. More than $3,500 profit was made on the sale of raffle tickets on a Triumph TR3 Sports Car, which was given away the weekend before Christmas. The Ladies Auxiliary was organized to lead the endeavor. It was a truly community affair. After the project was complete, ads were sold the yearly program and the boys sold ballpoint pens. The ladies auxiliary had spaghetti suppers. The new field was started by a group of men led by Dave Harvey.
The field was worked on daily as the Field of Dreams was built. Gradually, bleachers, press box, concession stand, fences and dugouts were added. It rained and rained. Finally after weeks the rain stopped and dried out. Lights were installed as a picnic event. All parents and friends of the league helped to install the new lighting. The total cost of the field was $7,800, which included $3,300 for the lights. This year 2 Minors and 4 Minor B teams were added to the league, which made 12 teams. The Bears, managed by Tony Brandino and Larmar Lowery, won the pennant.
Tom Howard was elected President for the 1960 season. Plans were started for a Pony League. The league promoted a Halloween Carnival and sold candy. Two new Pony teams were added. Frank Tomb replaced Tom Howard. Games were held every day but Monday. A Softball league was added for Mondays. The Red Sox, managed by Bill King and Dale Roberts, won the pennant. Area playoffs were held at Bluff Park in July. A Labor Day BBQ and Carnival was held at the Community House and a Queen was selected. This started another tradition, Queen of the League, which produced a great fundraiser.
Gay Orman was elected President for the 1961 season. Fundraisers were now an integral part of the league, which included yearly program advertisements, candy sales, Queen Contest, Mothers games, Halloween Carnival and League BBQ. A league was formed in conjunction with Cahaba Heights. It was called the Bluff-Cahaba Pony League. Two Little Cap teams were started for the 8 and 9 year olds. A scoreboard was donated to the league and umpires were added. The Pony League was won by the White Sox managed by Russ Malool and Ray McClure, the Major League Red Sox managed by Bill King and Dale Roberts, the Minor League Rebel AAA managed by Dick Northrip and Larry Scmidtke, and the Rebel AA managed by Frank Hawkins and Reed Crider.
The late 1960′s were important years. In 1967, the City of Hoover was incorporated – all four blocks of it. Hoover was initially comprised of only 410 citizens. Just six years later, however, the city had grown to a population of 3,594 and other areas began to seek annexation into the new municipality. A group of interested people started looking for new land to develop a park. After endless hours of research, 15 acres, the current site on Al Seier Road, was found so the league could expand. Following a denied petition to improve the fields at Bluff Park School residents purchased land off Al Seier and volunteered to turn the land into a new park.
The challenge, however, was how to pay for the expansion. Most members donated or gave a pledge to produce the seed money for the purchase so this is where the founding fathers came up with the name Shades Mountain Community Park – it was truly a community effort to build our park.
Little by little, the park began to take shape. Fundraisers were used to help, but the men and women of the park did most of the work. After a lot of hard work by a precious few, the Colt League and football field opened in 1966. In 1967, the baseball and football programs merged.
The Colt Field was dedicated to Paul Brandino. The Bronco and Mountain League fields were built in 1968. New age groups were added for the 6&7 year olds, plus 15-17 year olds. By 1969, the park had baseball for 6-17 boys, football for 6-15 boys, and softball for 8-16 girls.
According to longtime SMP Board member Chuck Cuppett, over the years some have asked why SMP and the park now known as Hoover Sports Park Central on Chapel Lane are located so close to one another. The answer? At the time they were built there was no connecting road between the road and they served different communities. SMP was mainly a league for Bluff Park residents while people in Green Valley tended to play at the other park, he said.
The City purchased the park around 1980 and soon after remodeled and has continued to further develop the park. For a brief time in the mid-1980′s SMP was used for girls’ softball and baseball games were moved to Hoover Sports Park Central, but this was temporary. The park’s history continues to be written and any additions are welcome and encouraged.