On a muggy Friday evening, the only sounds that could be heard at Maude Bryan Park were the thunder off to the west and the sounds of the engine of George Smith’s compact vehicle.
In years past, crowds would line the gate around the baseball field to watch some of the best little league talent that the south side of Greenville had to offer. These days Maude Bryan Park is empty
“I’m 62 years old and this park was here when I was a child,” Smith recalled. “I used to play right over there in right field on a team with a couple of my friends in the late 1960s.”
On Sept. 7, 1965, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in its weekly public summary bulletin that it would allocate $142,647 for the development of two facilities in predominantly African-American communities. The area around Maude Bryan Park, affectionately known as Bookertown, was to receive the bulk of the money, $90,002 for the building of a childcare center and development of a full-service playground which included a baseball field.
The field served as the site for highly competitive little league action for several decades until about a decade ago when the support and passion for inner city baseball began to wane. Children on the southside of town grew up wanting to be remembered for launching a home run over the left centerfield fence out onto South Theobald. Over the years, the park added a swimming pool, a volleyball pit and a basketball court to give local youngsters recreation, safety, and a sense of community.
“We really need to find ways to get our kids back into playing ball and using the park like we did when I was growing up,” Smith said. “Maude Bryan is still a place where kids have a nice safe place to play.”
Smith’s words were validated by the scenery at the park. The grass throughout the park was evenly manicured as a beautiful shade of hunter green. The park was so clean to the point that a Styrofoam cup being blown by the wind across the infield grass was very much out of place.
Last fall, the City of Greenville invested heavily into the upgrades, upkeep, and maintenance of the park. With its sun blocking pecan trees and wide-open spaces, it is an ideal location for athletic competition and fun. The only thing missing are the crack of the bat, cheering crowds and interest necessary to help Maude Bryan return to form.
“We can do so much for a community by understanding what a good park means,” Smith said. “We’ve got to find a way to help the younger generation appreciate what they have.”
(Editor's Note: Delta Democrat Times contributing writer Patrick Ervin took an in-depth look at the state of Greenville's inner city parks which were once centers of community activity and high levels of athletic competition).