Sports

Hard to believe

Listening to Erin Gibler, the head coach of the 12-and-under White Sox Training Academy softball team just south of Chicago, the fix is on.

Gibler didn't actually out it that way, by she couldn't help but laugh as she talked about the team hers drew for the first round of today's 2007 NSA Class A Girls Fastpitch World Series.

"We play the Cubs, a team from Alexander, North Carolina,'' Gilber said. "Can you believe it? We come all the way down here and its the White Sox versus the Cubs. It's funny.''

Gibler is a former college softball player and works part time at the Training Academy, and indoor sports facility owned and financed by the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls.

It caters to softball, baseball and basketball players and is open seven days a week. More than 500 young players attended the academy. White Sox players often show up for clinics or to use the batting cages. So do players from the Chicago Bandits, a pro softball team.

Next week, Joakim Noah, the Bulls' first-round draft pick out of Florida, and Ben Gordon will be there to work with the kids.

Gibler works full time as a police detective for the Napperville, Ill., Police Department. When she's busy with an investigation, Jill Karsa, her assistant coach and player at Elmhurst University, works with her group at the Training Academy.

"We have 60 kids in our traveling program,'' Gibler said. "I've been working at the Training Academy for four years. We are open seven days a week year-round because we're inside.''

• COLOR PURPLE: The eyes of the other teams were on the 12-and-under Texas Lady Cats from just south of Houston at Sunday's Opening Ceremonies.

Teams show up each year trying to impress the others with funny hats, T-shirts or whatever.

The Lady Cats wore purple cowgirls hats, leather cowgirls boots spray painted purple, sunglasses and purple beads along with their shorts and uniform tops.

Kelsey Sellers, Andrea Hawkins and Lexi Rubio sat together and were proud of their get-up.

"We wear purple but pink is my favorite color,'' Sellers said. "We're just glad to be here. Softball is popular in Texas.''

Watch out for the Lady Cats. Alex Rubio, Kelsey's dad, said the team is built on speed and power.

• MORE BEADS: Another team that was a big hit came from Louisiana to play in the Series.

The 16-and-under Bayou Gators from Walker, La., had the other players of their feet hoping to grab a strand of Mardi Gras beads. The Gators' players had handfuls and were tossing them to the teams in the seats below them.

"We got them from parades in New Orleans,'' Sara Portwood said. "Most of us have been saving them for years.

"I try not to throw toward anyone not looking. It hurts when they hit you in the head, especially during a parade when it's raining.''

Like Portwood, Ashlynn Ferguson has been saving beads for years. They came in handy Sunday.

"Most us have big boxes of them in our attics back home,'' Ferguson said. "It was fun to clean them out and bring them with us. Some players walked up and asked for them, but I told them to go find a seat and I would try to throw them a strand.''

• MORE GATORS: Another Gators' team looked good decked out in their orange, blue and white uniforms -- just like the University of Florida.

But wait. These Gators are from Indiana, not the Sunshine State.

Jay McCord, a Gators assistant coach, said most everybody thinks the team is from Florida until they see Indiana across the top of their jerseys.

"The name came from another coach who had a team, the Decatur Gators, years ago,'' McCord said.

Rusty Herndon, the head coach of the 12-and-under Gators, said the team broke up and became the Hoosier Pride seven years ago.

The next year, we changed our name back to Gators and started wearing the orange and blue,'' Herndon said. "It wasn't because of Florida. We did it because orange started to become a popular color back then and still is.''

• WHO? There are 12 players on the 10-and-under team that might have the best name, the (St. Amant) Louisiana Red Stick Sports 007's.

And they might have the best names on the back of their jersey's. When the 007's formed, the coaches told them to pick a nickname they wanted to use.

There's Flash, Scoop, Choo Choo, Beep Beep, Chicken Hawk, Light'nin, Giggle, Peanut, Little Bit, George, Dudiet and Bones.

Jody Edmonsten, and assistant coach and full-time sheriff's deputy, said it was done to keep the girls excited.

That shouldn't be hard. The 007's were 44-2-1 this year.

"We've had nine first-place finishes and three seconds this year,'' said Ty Lavinge, another assistant. "It's been a good season and we hope to keep it going.''

• MORE TEXAS: NSA doesn't have teams in Texas, so when the organization asked if there were any teams that wanted to come to this year's World Series the 14-and-under Fort Bend Fire was ready to roll.

"I've never been to the Carolinas, but my parents (Mark and Linda Dilly) lived in Charlotte for two years,'' Sara Dilly said. "I've played travel ball since I was 10.

"Softball in Texas is really good. Our 12-and-under team won the USSSA World Series last year in Orlando, Fla.''

• PRICELESS: The girls that play for the Diamond Girls from Yadkin, N.C., have priceless smiles. And they looked really cute in their light blue uniforms, some players missing teeth.

They play in the 8-and-under division, which was added to the series this year.

The backs of their jerseys were also eye-catching. They said: Glove $65; Bat $150; Cleats $55; To be a Diamond Girl ... Priceless.

"Our league back home came up with the slogan,'' said Linda Neese, the head coach and director of the after-school program for kids in kindergarten though the eighth grade for Yadkin County schools. "We have two teams here and we are the Diamond Girls White.

"Our association has travel teams for 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U. Our 14U team is playing in a World Series in Virginia this week. It's good to have that our kids can play so close to home.''

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