The picture is coming into focus for Jason Trufant.
The blue, green, and reddish-brown artificial turf just adds to the visual at the renovated Don Usher Softball Field. The Mississippi University for Women Director of Athletics also takes in the navy windscreen with the school’s athletic logo and Owls Softball on the fence surrounding the field and knows The W’s dreams are being realized.
“I think there was a belief factor that had to be put into play,” Trufant said. “When the community sees the investment that the university puts in, now they know this is real. You can see a soccer scoreboard (at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex) and you can see a logo on a gym floor (inside Pohl Gymnasium), but when you see something very tangible that is in the community that is built by the university, I think that really changes the picture to say, ‘They’re all in on this project.’”
Trufant adopted the mantra “win every day” when he was hired in June 2016 to lead the school’s return to intercollegiate athletics. He said he has been pleased with the progress, but he knows there is plenty more work to be done, especially on the softball field, which Trufant said has cost “more than $400,000.” Trufant said university funds as well as private and foundation funds have been used to make a “nice home” for the softball program.
Lights and seating for the softball field — which is on 15th Street, just south of the W’s campus — was finished in time for the Sunday, Feb. 11 season-opening doubleheader against Millsaps College.
Trufant also said work will be done to add to the parking for the field, to build a batting cage, to expand the bathroom area, and to renovate the press box, which now features a new deck.
The W’s first baseball team started its season on Friday, Feb. 9, at the University of Dallas. It will play its home games at Columbus High School as part of a five-year agreement The W signed with the Columbus Municipal School District. As part of the agreement, The W has worked with Columbus High to install a new fence, to add to the bullpens and to enhance the dugouts.
Softball and baseball programs are the latest steps in The W’s transition to becoming a NCAA Division III sports member. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, The W introduced men’s soccer and women’s cross country and brought back women’s volleyball in its first season of intercollegiate athletics since it disbanded its sports programs after a tornado in November 2002 destroyed the school’s gymnasium.
In 2018-19, The W will start women’s soccer, men’s cross country, men’s golf, and men’s and women’s tennis. Trufant said the school is examining adding men’s and women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse in 2019-2020. The addition of track and field, sand volleyball, rugby, bowling, women’s golf, swimming and esports — which is a form of competition using video games — has also been discussed.
While The W works to finalize those plans, Trufant will continue to prepare for the start of the baseball and softball seasons. He’s confident people will be impressed by the “showpiece” facility The W has built for its softball program.
“Now that you have this, you can see the baseball facility. It is not just in somebody’s brain. You can see the soccer facility,” Trufant said. “You can see what the future holds. People who ever had a doubt of what we were trying to do, I think it goes away after taking one peek.”