If Sunday's opening ceremony was any indication, expect to see hundreds of out of the ordinary visitors around York County this week.
The National Softball Association kicked off its Class B Girls Fastpitch World Series on Sunday morning in a ceremony at Carowinds. The 110 teams from across the country will converge on Cherry Park, Hargett Park and several other sites around Charlotte this week to compete in what has become an annual boon to tourism in York County. Here are a few signs that will tip you off to the out-of-town visitors:
- Cars, trucks and SUVs smeared with window paint spelling out players nicknames, team monikers and well wishes from family members.
- Packs of young girls in tie-dye, neon and tiger-striped jerseys and T-shirts;
- Adolescents wearing more eye-black face paint than Chipper Jones; and
- Hundreds of parents toting coolers, cameras and camcorders.
The tournament is smaller than in past years due to higher gas prices crimping travel budgets, organizers say. But event directors and sponsors still have plenty of off-the-diamond fun planned for the players, including special deals at Carowinds and a party Tuesday night at the Knight's Castle ballpark in Fort Mill.
"We want you to have a great week," tournament director David Butler told the players and their families Sunday. "We know you've jumped through a lot of hoops to get here."
The teams traveled from as far as Florida, New York, Wisconsin, and everywhere in between. Most have been playing in tournaments all summer and have raised money for their trip.
"We actually were down here a few weeks ago in another tournament. Cherry Park is a beautiful park," said Robert Poe of Chatham, N.C.
Poe's two daughters, Madison and Erin, players on the Chatham Katz, will be competing in the 12 and under division at Cherry Park this week. Poe and his girls said the highlight of the tournament is always meeting players from other states. Tuesday night, the teams will exchange collectable pins with each other to commemorate the trip.
Every team has a unique story.
"We're from Chatham, outside of Siler City," he explained, "the home of Aunt Bee (from The Andy Griffith Show)."
First fun, then down to business
Many teams pack goody bags with signature items from home to swap with opponents after each game.
"It's cool because usually we only play local teams," said 10-year-old Rebecca Hoskins from Danville, Va.
"There's teams here from, like, Delaware," she beamed.
But even with all the planned entertainment, the girls won't be spending hours in the hot Carolina sun this week just for a pin. Twelve-year-old Erin Poe remembers there's another prize up for grabs.
"I guess if we win that would be awesome, too," she said.