With higher gas prices and travel expenses, a smaller crowd in comparison to last year showed up Monday at Cherry Park to watch the first day of the NSA Class B Girls Fastpitch World Series.
"There's not as many people traveling," said Mike Poe, the tournament director for 12-and-under. "Gas is the biggest factor."
Gas increases travel expenses since the young softball players and their families drive to tournaments instead of flying.
"I've never seen them fly in," he said. "It's a family thing."
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However, not as many family members came this year to cheer for the young players.
"They usually have masses of people with them," Poe said, referring to the girls.
The young players usually come with their parents and sometimes grandparents, Poe said. But this year, some of them are with either their mothers or fathers.
And it's not only the crowd that got smaller. Not as many teams as expected came to the tournament this year, Poe said. Organizers were expecting 150 teams, but only 110 showed up to play.
"Youth World Series numbers are down across the country," he said, referring to the softball and baseball series.
• BANNER TOURNAMENT: Some of the softball teams have also made tough decisions due to the economic downturn.
A team from Georgia, Poe said, decided not to come to the tournament because some families couldn't afford the trip. Other teams decided not to play as many tournaments as they usually did.
The Weekend Warriors from Burlington, N.C., found another way to cope with the economic downturn.
Some kids whose parents couldn't afford to come and watch them play are staying with other kids' parents in the same hotel room, said Teresa Bell, who has her two daughters playing for the Weekend Warriors.
In order to come play the tournament, the Weekend Warriors had to count on several supporters. So they brought banners thanking their sponsors and hung them on the fence of one of the softball fields.
"We worked really hard," Bell said, referring to finding people to sponsor the team.
She said it wasn't so hard to find sponsors this year in comparison to previous years.
"It's just hard work," she said.
She said some people who sponsored them in the past are also supporting them this year because they appreciate what the team does.
"We got great kids, great parents and great supporters," Bell said. "That's the success of this year. We expect to win every game we're in."
• VENDORS HURT: The economic downturn is not only affecting the young softball players and their families.
Selling NSA World Series clothes such as T-shirts, shorts and hats is not as good as in previous years, said Danny Todd, a salesperson from Mount Holly, N.C.
Todd, who is in the business for the eighth straight year, blames the economic downturn and the higher gas prices for the lower number of sales. He said it prevented people from coming to the tournament and from buying the World Series clothes.
"People don't do that much frivolous spending," he said, referring to the fact people have to spend on more important things such as gas, hotels and food. "They kind of cut back on it."
• A SNOWBALL'S CHANCE: With 105-degree heat, the snowball business wasn't affected by the fragile economy.
Selling a cup for $2 for the fifth straight year, Rock Hill's Robert O. McFadden said his sales numbers were similar to previous years.
"It can be very busy," he said. "The hotter and drier, the more you sell."
With the burning heat, McFadden has been so busy he said he doesn't even have time to watch the softball games.
He said he expects to sell "several hundreds" of snowballs by the end of the week.
He also said customers may buy snowballs several times in a day because when people first taste the homemade flavors, they like them and come back for more. Three years ago, a 7-year-old girl had nine snowballs in one day, McFadden said.
"They are really good flavors," he said of the 12 different flavors.
Courtney Dunlap, 13, who plays for the Diamond Dogs of Peninsula, Ohio, agrees.
"It's really good," she said of her raspberry and lemon-lime snowball. "It's very refreshing, after a long game."