MAUSTON — Mauston baseball coach Chris Lavold thought he was in a different world when he drove two miles outside of town last June.
When he arrived at the Woodside Sports Complex during its opening-weekend tournament, he saw professionally lit, artificial turf fields with 500 people watching the action.
The long-discussed project — with an estimated price tag of $40 million — had come alive.
“If you know anything about Mauston, we’re a pretty small town,” Lavold said. “I felt like I was at Disney World, to be honest. It’s beautiful.”
That display, though, was just a first step toward Woodside’s goal to become a sports-themed destination site for the entire Midwest.
To that end, Woodside bought the Wisconsin Dells Center in September. The 90,000-square-foot bubble can hold 60 volleyball courts or 12 basketball courts at one time.
Last week, it broke ground on a new facility a mile away from the Wisconsin Dells Center. The site will be home to eight soccer/lacrosse fields, as well as more baseball and softball fields.
“We’re a little surprised that it took off that quickly,” said Chris Lechnir, Woodside’s vice president of business operations. “We were hoping (to have) 300 to 400 teams this summer, signed up for tournaments. It’s close to 600 already, and we’re still in April.”
Lechnir and others from Woodside were scrambling last summer just to convince 30 teams to play in their opening tournament.
This year, registration for one June tournament had to be cut off in January because 72 teams already had signed up and paid in full, nearly six months in advance.
This spring, outside of pre-organized tournaments, the facility in Mauston has hosted more than 100 baseball and softball games at the high school and collegiate levels.
“Last year, we called it our soft opening,” Woodside senior vice president Lance Massey said. “We really just got on the map. We got on everyone’s calendar.
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“This year, it’s rolled around and the booking of teams has just been substantial. It’s been a very, very, very busy spring.”
The idea for the development began in 2002 when Damon Zumwalt, the CEO and founder of Contemporary Services Corp., bought the Woodside Ranch in Mauston with the vision of turning it into a unique sports complex.
The biggest draw for teams comes from the artificial turf — a surface that allows for events to be played even after major rainfall.
According to Massey, the turf can withstand 6 inches of rain per hour and can be playable immediately after a downpour.
Lechnir, the former activities director at Wisconsin Dells High School, knows what kind of headache springtime can bring for outdoor sports schedule-makers.
At Woodside, teams can count on getting their games in from March through November.
“The real simple thing is that you’re guaranteed to play,” Lechnir said. “The only thing stopping us is lightning.”
And the Wisconsin Dells area is as good a place as any to house teams traveling from around Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest.
Massey said the only thing lacking for Woodside’s capability of hosting WIAA state tournament events is a lack of seating. He’s hopeful, though, that even that will change in the future, and the facility could easily host regional or sectional games in its current state.
The uptick in business Woodside has seen over the past six months shows its value, and it will only continue to grow.
Lechnir said the outdoor facilities in Mauston and Wisconsin Dells will eventually have 10 fields apiece, so that USA Soccer can hold major tournaments with as many as 300 teams.
With a man at the forefront such as Zumwalt, whose CSC company operates more than 50 branch locations across the country, Woodside has the resources to continue building on what it already has accomplished.
“(Zumwalt) really wanted to do something that will be special in the Midwest,” Massey said. “There are other big facilities out there in the United States, but in the Midwest there’s nothing really marquee.
“We tried not to cut any corners in the process. Damon’s vision, he really thought we could bring something special to this area.”
Contact Jason Galloway at jgalloway
@madison.com or 608-252-6174.