For coaches and fans, there are plenty of opportunities to see major softball talent in Johnson City next week.
Ninety-five teams from 28 states are entered in the ASA 18-under Girls’ National Championship tournament. Overall, it adds up to a schedule of 283 games to be played at Winged Deer Park and White Top Park in Bristol.
While many of the players are either signed or committed to play at the college level, others have an opportunity to showcase their skills to possible recruiters.
“We’ve seen the recruiting forms come through our office and where a lot of these players have signed. That’s very exciting,” said Karen Hubbs, Director of Sports Development for the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of college coaches coming in, some from Miami, Philadelphia and Texas, as well as the local coaches who will be here. I’m sure a lot of these girls will be a little nervous because they want to get signed.”
Johnson City has previously hosted the national championship for the 10-under and 14-under age groups, but Hubbs pointed out the 18-under players take it to a higher level, competing in what is considered one of ASA’s five crown jewel tournaments.
“This is the highest caliber of girls’ fast pitch softball we’ve seen in this area,” she said. “The 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds we hosted had the fastest pitches I’ve seen, and I played college softball. These 18-year-olds, you can only imagine the heat they are going to throw.
“Who knows? The next Jennie Finch could be playing here or the next Monica Abbott. Who knows? Someone of that caliber could be playing.”
For the city leaders and those on the JC Chamber, they like the fact the teams bring in an estimated $2.5 million economic boost to Johnson City. From the local coaches’ perspective, it is a rare opportunity to get to see this much talent while not traveling far from home.
“It’s a great opportunity for the ASA teams to come in, visit the area and particularly visit our school,” Milligan College head coach Wes Holly said. “It gives us a chance to speak to them about possible recruiting. We’ve had numerous calls and e-mails from people wanting to visit our campus, and give us their game times.”
Holly added it’s also an opportunity for the families to get a good feel of their kids going to one of the local schools, whether it’s Milligan, ETSU, Tusculum, King or Virginia Intermont.
With 283 games scheduled, hosting the tournament is a major undertaking.
Rick Poole, the tournament director, as well as James Ellis, the Tennessee State Commissioner for ASA, said the weather is often the biggest challenge.
“There was a tournament last weekend (at Winged Deer Park) and the weather played havoc,” Poole said. “Rain is a big thing. You don’t want the athletes hurt. You don’t to tear up the fields. If you push games back, you have time constraints on certain fields. You just have to work through it.”
While there are challenges, Pools is thrilled that Johnson City is hosting the tournament. As a former umpire and an employee of the Johnson City Parks and Recreation department, he called it an honor to be awarded the tournament.
It’s the latest collaboration between the ASA and Johnson City. For Holly, it always brings back memories of four years ago when Milligan College became the first NAIA team ever to compete against the U.S. Olympic team, headlined by Finch and Cat Osterman, in a game held at Cardinal Park.
“This tournament is two-fold,” Holly said. “It brings back memories for me because I played ASA softball, men’s fast pitch for 23 years. The highlight of my career is obviously when we hosted the U.S. Olympic team in 2008. It was a phenomenal opportunity we had. The girls really had a great time and that’s a memory they’ll keep the rest of their lives. That’s the pinnacle of women’s fast pitch softball. That’s the goal of these girls this weekend, to get to that level.”