CHATHAM, IL. — Less than a year and a half has passed since the first softball game was played at Spartan Sports Park, and already the multi-sport complex has surpassed owner Peter Christofilakos’ wildest dreams.
“I was surprised, but my main goal with this facility was not to make money,” Christofilakos said. “Our goal was to build something very nice for the people of our area to be able to come out with their kids.”
With 121 softball teams spread across a six-days-a-week schedule, Spartan appears to have become the area’s go-to place for slow-pitch softball. The complex also has 121 volleyball teams and hosts the Sangamon County Seminoles — an eight-man football team — and the Springfield Men’s Soccer League. This fall, it will hold a kickball league.
“The first year, I was shocked, but I was much more shocked this year,” Christofilakos said. “We basically doubled both leagues. I was very happy with that.”
The resounding success of Spartan hasn’t been without side effects. Four Seasons Recreation Inc. has lost most of its softball business, and the Springfield Park District has also seen a decline in its softball numbers.
From sod to turf
When Christofilakos first purchased the land where Spartan now sits, it was used as a sod farm.
By 2010, the vision was in place and the first work to turn it into a sports complex began in late 2011. The park opened the following April.
In the beginning, the park featured grass infields on the diamonds, a concession stand, bleachers and seating under outdoor shelters. This year, Christofilakos had artificial turf installed on each of the four infields.
“We wanted it to be turf so we could have very minimal rainouts, true hops (and) better bounces — it’s more of a safety issue as well,” he said.
That addition excited many of the park’s softball players.
“Unless it’s absolutely pouring and (there’s) lightning prior to game time, you’ll play,” said Don Porter, 64, of Athens. “That means a lot. We’ve only had one rainout all season.”
Spartan is also a family affair. Christofilakos’ sister, Rini Soler, and his wife, Stephanie Christofilakos — despite being 30 weeks pregnant — can be found serving concessions.
Top of line
Many of the softball and volleyball players at Spartan had played elsewhere before its opening and said it will continue to get their business for the foreseeable future.
“The turf is really nice. It’s a great surface to play on. I feel I can run faster,” Tim Smith, 35, said. “This is the top of the line. You’re not going to find a rec league that has the structure like this.”
David Nolan, 36, of Divernon, is happy with the way his volleyball league has been run.
“It’s fun, friendly and definitely family-oriented. It’s well organized,” he said, adding the organization of schedules was a big draw.
Another senior softball player, Lenny Coleman, said, “It’s a great atmosphere out here. Family, not family, it doesn’t matter. It runs top-notch. It’s clean — always clean — and well run.”
Taking a hit
While the park district’s recreation supervisor of athletics, Sean Dickerson, said he has seen a drop in teams, he adds that the leagues — playing at Iles, Jaycees and Lincoln parks — aren’t for profit.
“Our goal with programs is at minimum to break even. At the end of the day, I’m here to serve the taxpayers to provide a service, and that service is recreation programs,” Dickerson said. “Other places are looking to make a profit.”
Chris Garner, owner of Four Seasons, said his volleyball leagues continue to thrive and he still plans to offer softball six nights a week at his facility. Most importantly, he said, Four Seasons will be around for long after its 30th anniversary come next April.
“I truly believe there will be people playing here in the future,” Garner said. “I’ve been here 30 years. I’ve invested half my life here. I plan on turning this over to my kids and my nieces and nephews. I don’t see why there isn’t room for more than one place. I’m not a take-it-all guy.”
Four Seasons is much more than a sports complex, Garner said. Besides three softball diamonds and four volleyball courts — two of which now feature white sand imported from the Gulf Coast — it has several televisions inside the sports bar and a full kitchen.
Garner is learning to approach his business differently these days.
“I thought, ‘You know, it’s time after 30 years to rethink what Four Seasons is.’ I’m not a sports complex that has a concession stand. I’m more of a bar and restaurant that happens to have the sports facilities around it,” Garner said.
Steve Putrich, who enjoys playing volleyball at both facilities, agreed.
“Four Seasons, I think, is still a little bit different where I think it’s still a more casual atmosphere,” Putrich, 46, said. “I think people tend to hang out there more than they do here (Spartan). Here, they play and they leave. I think some will always stay at Four Seasons because they like that part of it.”
Christofilakos said he thinks there is enough interest in recreation sports in the area to keep multiple places in business.
“We don’t look at facilities around here as competition or something we’re trying to go against,” he said.
“We’re looking at other places around here as someone we can team up with. That was our whole goal, to give people another option. It’d be great if people play here one night, another place another night.”