By LINDA CHION KENNEY
The SouthShore Sportsplex officially opened Saturday in Apollo Beach with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that preceded the first games ever to be played on the multisport, state-of-the-art synthetic-turf fields.
“This is about us making an investment in our community,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen, in an interview about the “spectacular complex” and its 85-acre site. “It’s about investing in our kids, in our teenagers, and in fitness for everyone.”
Now open is phase one of the SouthShore Sportsplex, which sports four fields, a playground, pavilions, LED lighting, a concession building with restrooms, offices and meeting space, and parking for more than 500 vehicles. The county’s $11 million first-phase investment covers roughly half the 85-acre site. Phase II is set to include four synthetic-turf baseball fields and, according to Cohen, a dog park.
As for its four connected fields, the SouthShore Sportsplex is one of the largest contiguous synthetic turf fields in the nation, and it’s prepared to handle both the rising demand — and the rising heat.
Just ask Rodney Jones, an athletic specialist for Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, who said it’s his dream job to be working at the facility that at one point was known as the Waterset facility, for the master-planned community in which it resides.
“This is one of the top-notch Astro turfs in the whole nation, and one of the best things about it is its cooling agent,” Jones said. “Every time we water, it will cool the field down close to 10 to 12 degrees for close to 12 hours.”
Moreover, the built-in drainage system allows for play to resume “within the next 20 minutes after a storm’s passing,” Jones said. “As long as there is no lightning, there won’t be any games stopped because the fields are too wet. We’ll just have to give it a minute or so to dry.”
As for the demand for the fields, that’s a no-brainer with the break-neck growth of the south Hillsborough County, home to Hillsborough’s largest school, Sumner High in the Balm/Riverview area, and to an even larger high school under construction in Wimauma, some six miles away. That school, known as High School UUU until it is officially named, is set to open for the 2025-26 school year. Sumner opened in 2020 to relieve overcrowding at Lennard High in Ruskin and at East Bay High in Gibsonton, which sits roughly 3 miles from Waterset.
The SouthShore Sportsplex is a countywide facility, operated under the auspices of Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation. County officials opened an online survey for input and suggestions, and one of the greatest needs raised was for soccer fields, which now is being addressed, and for baseball fields, which will be addressed in phase two development.
Meanwhile, according to Jones, among the youth groups set to use the SouthShore Sportsplex, as of its opening, are N Zone Sports (football, soccer), Waterset Oilers (flag football, football, cheerleading), Tampa Dynamo FC (soccer), Under the Lights powered by Under Armour (flag football), Apollo Beach Lacrosse Club and Happy Feet (soccer). Also on tap, for adults, SoHill (kickball, Frisbee, football), Club Sport (soccer) and Suncoast Soccer.
Chris Kiddy is athletics manager for the 47 sports complexes operating under the auspices of Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation. What’s unique about the SouthShore Sportsplex, Kiddy said, “is that we’re always going to try to leave field space open for the public to come out and play pickup games.”
Because county sites for the most part are run by athletic partnering organizations, like Pop Warner and Little League, usage is not available for pickup games, Kiddy said. As for the SouthShore Sportsplex, “this is the place where you’re going to be able to come and there will be fields open.”
For rental fees, and for weekly calendars noting available times for pickup games, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/locations/southshore-sportsplex. The fields support a variety of sports and activities, including soccer, football, lacrosse, kickball and cricket. The SouthShore Sportsplex is at 6110 Waterset Blvd., Apollo Beach. Call: 813-744-5595.