The city of Destin's Morgan Sports Center turns 20

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Where can you hold a ball tournament, an Easter egg hunt, a seafood festival and a Fourth of July bike parade? Morgan Sports Center.

The sports center, which recently turned 20 years old, has been home to these events and more during the past two decades.

The $3.7 million facility at 4200 Indian Trail opened October 2000 with four regulation softball fields, two youth baseball fields, three soccer fields and a children's playground. 

Morgan Sports Center in Destin has hosted many sports tournaments and other events during its 20 years.

"Morgan Sports Center is a wonderful contribution to our city," Destin City Manager Lance Johnson said. 

"We are able to provide various year-round programs for all age groups and amenities such as the walking track and children's playground for our community to enjoy," Johnson said.

More:2019 - PHOTOS: Destin Fourth of July Bike Parade

The complex also has a half basketball court, benches, concession stand, a sand volleyball court, disc golf course, public restrooms and bleachers at the softball fields. However, the bleachers have been removed this year to help promote social distancing because of the coronavirus.

More:2020 - Coed softball back on the ball field at Morgan Sports Center

Even with the virus lingering, the sports complex has provided a good outlet for folks to get outside.

Morgan Sports Center is home to three youth sports leagues such as spring and fall youth soccer as well as a fall youth flag football league. It's also home to seven adult leagues: spring and fall men's and coed softball, spring and fall adult flag football and adult summer kickball.

The softball fields at Morgan Sports Center are not just for softball. Destin has a kickball league that plays in the summer.

THE BEGINNINGS

Morgan Sports Center was birthed out of a need.

Before the center, Destin had one big softball field and a smaller one, plus an open field for football or soccer behind Destin Elementary School.

"We were overflowing at the Destin Elementary School and we couldn't provide any more activities," said Muir Kersanac, who was the city's recreation director when Morgan came about.

Between soccer, football and softball, the fields were maxed out, she said, noting that they had no breaks.

"We were playing until 11 o'clock at night trying to get all the games in," Kersanac said of the adult softball leagues.

As for the Destin Little League, it was its own entity at the time, but the City Council wanted to make sure the league was helped as well.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg McMichael conducts a drill as children watch at the Morgan Sports Complex in 2002.

The Little League requested two fields be included in the plans for Morgan Sports Center.

So the city set out to build a "multipurpose field or complex that could be used by a variety of entities in Destin," Kersanac said.

"We had several community meetings asking, 'What do you want?' " she said, noting that the staff talked with the Chamber of Commerce as well as PAL soccer and softball players.

"It was a combined effort of a lot of community leaders that said, 'This is what we want.' I feel like they accomplished it," she said with the complex.

THE OPENING

It was about a two-year process once officials got the ball rolling for the complex. 

The city was in talks with Destin Water Users for about a year over the land. 

"The land Morgan Sports Center sits on was provided to the city by Destin Water Users and we are grateful for the partnership," said Catherine Card, public information officer for Destin.

As for naming the facility, Kersanac said "it just all seemed natural."

Charles Morgan of Harbor Docks Restaurant had donated thousands of dollars yearly to recreation in Destin.

"We had a strong recreation committee, and we were bouncing off ideas and somebody mentioned Charles," Kersanac said.

"It just seemed all natural once somebody said that. We took it to the council and it was all agreed on," she said.

And once the center was open, it was game on.

"It was absolutely a hit. The city did it right," Kersanac said. 

"People came out. It was fun. Old softball players that had retired would come out and watch and hang out. It was very much a hit just socially," she said.

Softball leagues were playing four nights a week, and depending on the season, five nights were filled with soccer and flag football.

"The only thing we did not do was Sunday," she said. That day was for rental time.

MORGAN TODAY

Since opening in 2000, Morgan Sports Center has hosted a plethora of activities such as high school and middle school cross-country meets, school field day events, lacrosse tournaments, ultimate Frisbee tournaments, summer sports camps, charity softball games, Blessing of the Fleet picnics, Destin Seafood Festivals, annual city of Destin Easter egg hunts, and the Independence Day Family Celebration and Bike Parades. 

People sample food at the Destin Seafood Festival in 2007 at the Morgan Sports Center.

"These are all examples of community bonding events that take place at Morgan Sports Center, as well as all the tournaments that help generate revenue for many businesses throughout the city," Card said.

More:2016 - PHOTOS: Destin Surf-n-Turf 7 vs. 7 Lacrosse Tournament

Before the coronavirus, Destin hosted 15 to 20 tournaments a year at the center, and facilitated the USSSA Global World Series that drew in as many as 100 teams from across the United States in the summer.

Card said it takes about a dozen full- and part-time employees to oversee the complex, between maintenance and programming.

A girl displays her patriotism during a Fourth of July parade in 2006 at the Morgan Sports Center.

Morgan Sports Center had been in use almost daily. But with social distancing in place and other drawbacks because of COVID-19, numbers have changed.

More:2016 - Play ball! Morgan’s Sports Center has big economic impact on city

According to the city's budget, the number of users of the sports complex through scheduled programs was 173,225 in fiscal 2018 and 174,091 in fiscal 2019. However, the numbers dropped to 63,570 in fiscal 2020.

More:2017 - Sports Center has successful summer season

Nevertheless, it continues to be used and it's namesake, the Morgan family, is proud of the facility.

"My family has always been proud of our connection to the sports complex," Charles Morgan said.

"It's green — the manicured fields and live oak trees are a nice contrast to all the asphalt and concrete in our town," he said.

"It’s also popular, and not just with our kids playing ball and adults jogging and enjoying the park. Families from all over the South come to Destin for traveling soccer, baseball, softball and lacrosse tournaments. They spend money while they’re here and they pay to use the park," said Morgan, who noted that the money helps the recreation department cover its costs.