By C.D. DESALVO
HILL CITY — It seemed like just a normal western Kansas Memorial Day with some severe weather here and there. Flash flood warning alerts went out to cellphones around the Hill City area and, like most western Kansas natives assume, flash flood warnings in places of drought are usually nothing to be too concerned about.
In just a matter of 15 minutes, the town of Hill City was ravaged by a flash flood. Homes, trailers, businesses, fences, pipes and fields were all victims of the water that accumulated in the town of about 1,400 people.
Just a couple days prior to the flood, Hill City hosted the Todd Toll Memorial Softball Tournament at the Boyd-Powers Sports Complex. The complex featured a softball field, two baseball fields and a professional field. It was originally built to house the Hill City semi-professional baseball team, the Hill City Athletics, in the 1950s and 1960s. Crowds of up to 1,000 fans would show up to these games and, years later, as small-town baseball started to disappear, the community dedicated the fields to Bob Boyd and Darrell Powers — and slowly built up the fields to a beautiful complex through donations and community support.
“The entire fields were donated and they have been added onto over time,” said Shannon Toll, daughter of the late Todd Toll, for whom the tournament was named. “People came from all over the state and they loved the fields. I had people come up to me and tell me that these were the best fields in northwest Kansas next to Fort Hays State (Larks Park).”
The Todd Toll Memorial Softball Tournament was the largest Hill City had hosted in years, bringing in 15 teams from as far as Wichita and more than 200 fans.
“A couple of the top teams that finished in the tournament loved the fields so much that they donated their winnings back to the tournament to host again next year, and this was before the storm even happened,” Toll said.
Just as it seemed baseball and softball would make a comeback in Hill City, two days later the flood compromised the electrical and lighting systems, the clay was completely gone, fences were pushed over, foundations had caved in and the concession stands were wiped out. What wasn’t physically effected was chemically effected.
“Baseball and softball were making a comeback in Hill City with these fields. We were starting to get Legion teams together, and we were going to try and get a high school team started,” Toll said. “The whole thing came fast and destroyed all of it. It’s a complete new project, and we have to wipe the slate clean.”
After Toll found out about the fields, she immediately sprung into action to start a petition with Rusty Harmon, Tawny Ashbaugh, the families of Bob Boyd and Darrell Powers, as well as a number of others to see how many people would be on board to try to save the complex. Support for the petition was huge and, in a city meeting last week, organizers presented the petition and the city agreed to open a donation account.
“My dad was a county commissioner, carpenter, rancher and farmer. He was always involved in community and I grew up with these people. Our parents grew up together and went to school together,” Toll said. “They’re not just my friends and neighbors … they’re my family, and I believe we have the strength to get back on base.”
If you would like to donate, all checks can be addressed to Heal Hill City’s Home Plate, P.O. Box 22, Hill City, KS 67642. This is a 501(c)3 and the funds are going through the Graham County Recreation Commission. You can sign the petition by clicking on this link.
For any questions or more information, call or text Shannon Toll at 785-627-2111.