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Hampton pitches new sports complex

Mike Hampton, the Atlanta Braves star and Citrus County native, wants to build a local field of dreams so all children have a place to play.

Brent Hall, Citrus County director of the Mike Hampton Pitching-In Foundation, has told county and school leaders that Hampton was interested in building the largest sports complex in the county with their help.

More details are expected Tuesday, when foundation officials discuss the plan at the County Commission meeting.

"This is his vision," said Hall, noting that the foundation may not necessarily be involved in the project, although Hampton certainly will. "This is where he grew up and this is where his kids will go to school."

Hampton, 31, grew up in Homosassa and graduated in 1990 from Crystal River High School, where he was an all-state football and baseball selection. He and his wife, Kautia, and sons Michael, 6, and Griffin, 2, live in Homosassa.

His child's own sporting endeavors in soccer and football leagues opened his eyes to a ball field shortage in the county, spurring him to step up to the plate. When he heard that local Pop Warner football leagues were struggling to find practice space, Hall and county officials said, he came up with a proposal that would attempt to help the growing number of Citrus youth trickling in.

He proposes, in phases, to build an indoor-outdoor complex that would include:

+ several flag football and practice fields

+ full football field

+ gymnasium for adult and youth basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer

+ two youth baseball or softball diamonds

+ two high school-level baseball fields

+ cheerleading training pavilion

+ an indoor training facility with batting cages

Hampton is calling on the county to provide as much as 75 acres needed for such a complex, which would dwarf Whispering Pines Park in Inverness and Bicentennial Park outside Crystal River in field space, county officials said.

"The attempt is to make a family-oriented type facility so it has more than youth fields," said Rafael Del Valle, the county's parks and recreation director. "It's a beautiful concept, but where are you going to get all that money? If you have the money, that's great."

Hampton's Palm City-based foundation, which aims to support nonprofit groups that help disadvantaged children, took in $465,042 in 2001 and spent $202,437, according to Guide Star, a database that tracks nonprofit organizations. The rest of the money was listed as assets by the foundation, which boasts Hampton and his wife as board members.

Building a complex the size and scope of what Hampton is proposing in Citrus County, Del Valle said, could cost $5-million.

"He said he wants to make it a luxury-type complex, and I would say it would cost him a good dollar," Del Valle said. "It is consistent with Mike Hampton's attitude about giving back to the community. You see it all the time."

Hall, the local foundation representative, said Hampton's organization donated tens of thousands of dollars to five area Little Leagues and the Citrus County chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as other organizations in the Atlanta area.

"I'm excited about this," said county Commissioner Gary Bartell, who met with Hall and Del Valle to talk about the idea. As a Little League coach himself, Bartell said he knows firsthand the need for more athletic facilities.

Bartell said he made it clear that for the county to be involved, the facilities would have to be open and available to the public. Issues about scheduling all the various groups would have to rest with Hampton and the foundation.

"I know Mike Hampton personally. I know his mother and his father and I know that he and his family are committed to the community that has been there to support him," Bartell said. "I don't know the politics of the Mike Hampton Foundation, but I do know Mike Hampton and he is extremely sincere in putting something forward that would benefit Citrus County for 20, 30, 50 years down the road."

The county has four sites that could be considered for the park, Development Services director Gary Maidhof said, if commissioners wanted to partner with Hampton.

+ Betz Farm _ 325 acres donated by a developer _ is in Crystal River.

+ Central Ridge Park has more than 100 acres, including some existing fields, near Holder.

+ The county bought 170 acres for a possible future sewer plant to serve the Homosassa area near County Road 490 some years ago.

+ The county owns as much as 70 acres within the Withlacoochee State Forest.

According to information Hall submitted to the County Commission, the foundation is also asking the School Board to build a parking facility on the site. The school official involved in those discussions was out of the county Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Other top school officials contacted Thursday said they had not heard anything about the proposal.

"This is the first that we've heard of it," said James Hughes, executive director of support services. "I know there are needs for sports fields."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said board member Patience Nave. "It hasn't been mentioned to me. If it's under consideration, nobody has discussed it with me."

Hall, a winning head baseball coach, had been employed by the School Board until last June, when his teaching contract was not renewed. A series of stories in the Citrus Times last spring had detailed how Hall had violated school district rules and how a donation by Hampton to Hall's program at the Crystal River High School was not reported to the School Board as required by policy. High school principal Steve Myers was reprimanded for that oversight.

_ Justin George can be contacted at 860-7309 or Barbara Behrendt can be contacted at 564-3621 or Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.