Games are almost over, but priceless memories remain

Audrey Plant, pitcher for the Central Ohio Stingrays from Columbus, fires to the plate during their 16U game against Sudden Impact from Lynchburg, Va., at Cherry Park.
Audrey Plant, pitcher for the Central Ohio Stingrays from Columbus, fires to the plate during their 16U game against Sudden Impact from Lynchburg, Va., at Cherry Park.

Amid all that has been wrong with the world of sports over the past week, alleged gambling on games by an National Basketball Association official, continued questions about steroid use in Major League Baseball, and dogfighting charges against one of the National Football League's more prominent players, the NSA Class A Fastpitch World Series softball tournament is a reminder about how sports should be played.

Healthy competition among hundreds of traveling softball clubs, paired with amazing volunteer and parental support for the youth makes for a fun week for everyone.

So much fun, in fact, that the majority of the players and parents are not quite ready to head back to everyday life. After the championship games are played today, many would just as soon stay a little longer in the region.

"This week has been a blast," said Meghan Sowben, a leftfielder on the 12-and-under Seminoles from Winter Park, Fla. Sowben and her teammates had just defeated the rival Diamond Dusters from West Pines, Fla., to advance to the winner's bracket later in the afternoon.

"It has been hot this week," Sowben said, "but other than that, playing here has been an incredible experience. I am not ready to go home, and face the eight hour drive back to Florida. I want to keep playing softball!"

The Seminoles, coached by Jeff Fickas, have enjoyed some of the other sites in the area, including a trip to Carowinds, go-karts, and, of course, dining out.

Shana O'Dell, manager for the Indiana Thunder from Goshen, echoed the players' comments.

"This is a tremendous facility, with very generous staff," said O'Dell. "We have had awesome weather all week and are very happy to be one of the final four teams still playing. We are not thinking about going home yet. Hopefully, we can finish up here with a couple of wins, then we are going to Alabama to play in another tournament before heading home.

"Our parents put together a nice gift pack for our girls and we have put up door hangers in our hotels to show team spirit. The girls have had a great week."

The Thunder was scheduled to play the Indy Dreams in the loser's bracket. The two teams from the Hoosier state met for the 10th time this year, with the Thunder holding a 7-3 edge.

Another parent, Denise Patterson of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., mother of Fuzway Bombs Red centerfielder Mary-Scott, has been especially proud of the way her daughter's team has performed.

"We had one of our girls get hurt the first game of the tournament," said Patterson, "and another one of our players has been battling strep throat all week. Even though we dropped to the loser's bracket, we are thrilled to still be in the tournament.

"We have given our nine girls who are still playing, the nickname 'the Notorious Nine', and they have learned so much about playing together as a team and battling through adversity. It has been a great experience for them. We are not quite ready for it to be over."

Umpire Allen Scott from Mount Airy, N.C., has called around 18 games during the week, but he would not mind sticking around and enjoying a little more fellowship.

"Working with different umpire teams and getting to know them has been a highlight this week," said Scott. "I have developed some neat friendships since I have been here. All of the girls play hard, and it is great to see the kids having fun."

Possible the only person at Cherry Park who is excited to see the week come to a close is Charlotte sports vendor Danny Todd. His twelve hour days in the hot sun may have been catching up to him, but he has had a great week.

"We are very tired," said Todd, "but the tournament has gone without a hitch. With no rain delays no one seems rushed and all of the people here have been very nice and supportive. I am surprised to see the friendliness between the kids here. Despite the competition between them, everyone gets along and is having fun. I am ready to get back to the 'real world', but this has been a very good week."

Today's games will start at 9 a.m., for the third-place games, with the championships set for 11 and, if necessary, 3 for the under-12, 14, and 16 teams.

Afterwards, the five fields at Cherry Park will be quiet again, but the memories of the kids will last forever.