The National Softball Association Girls Class A East Fastpitch Softball World Series is back in town this year with a couple of new twists.
There is no gate fee, so fans can watch for free. And a new division has been added, the 8-and-under coach pitch division.
"The 8-and-under coach pitch has been a part of NSA for four years on the state level, but this year we moved it to World Series status,'' said David Butler, NSA's East Zone vice president. "The head coach of each team pitches to his or her players. We put the coach pitch in because the 8-and-under program has grown so much.
"We are expecting 300-plus teams. We like to bring our tournaments to this area because of the cooperation and enthusiasm we get here from the area recreation directors. We went up on the team entry fee this year, so anybody who wants to come out and watch can do so for free.''
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This year's World Series kicks off July 22 with opening ceremonies at the Carowinds Paladium. Gates open at 9 a.m. The teams, from the Eastern half of the United States, will be welcomed to the area by NSA officials and there will be live entertainment on the stage at the conclusion of the announcements.
The York Baptist Association will have a worship service starting at 9:30 a.m. The featured speaker is Leah O'Brien-Amico from Chino Hills, Calif., a three-time USA Softball Olympic gold medalist.
Players will be roaming the Paladium area that morning in search of this year's most coveted team pins. The official pin swap will be held at Knights Stadium from 6-9 p.m. on July 24.
The Series was last in Rock Hill in 2005 and has made stops in the area every other year since 1999.
"We're excited about it and we feel fortunate,'' said Mark Sexton, Administrative and Tourism Supervisor for Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism. "We are aware that we are basically the only city to get it back every other year on a consistent basis.
"Our community embraces it. The people here embrace the people who come and make them feel special. Businesses along Cherry Road put out welcome signs. We've had feedback that the girls are excited about the way they are treated here.''
The Series begins July 23 and runs through July 29 in Rock Hill, York, Charlotte and Gastonia, N.C., for five age brackets. Games will be played at nine locations, including five in York County. Fort Mill's Harris Street Park will be used for overflow games from Cherry Park.
Teams in the 14-and-under and 16-and-under divisions will play at Cherry Park, Hargett Park, Winthrop's Eagle Park, the York Recreation complex and at Renaissance Park on Tyvola Road in Charlotte.
Those in the 12-and-under division will play at Nevin Park, Hornets Nest Park and Mallard Creek Community Park in Charlotte.
Teams in the 10-and-under division will play at George Poston Park in Gastonia, which is also the site for the 8-and-under coach pitch division.
The series includes three area teams. The Carolina Angels from the Fort Mill area have entered teams in the 12-and-under and 14-and-under divisions. The younger group is coached by Ronald Brazzell and the older team by Sam Holeman.
The Carolina Girls, coached by Brian Dove, are from the Lancaster-Heath Springs area and will play in the 16-and-under division.
The 18-and-under division is not included in this year's field and will have a separate World Series in Birmingham, Ala.
"They wanted their own World Series,'' Butler said. "We moved the 18-and unders out of our Series to their own event because there are so many teams in the division.
"It also gives the college scouts an opportunity to see all the players at one location. It will help the girls who haven't done so yet earn scholarships.''