For the vast majority of the players on 172 teams in Chattanooga this week for the Amateur Softball Association 16-under girls’ fastpitch national tournament, playing softball is a year-round experience split between their ASA “summer” teams and their high school seasons.
Coaches and players say the difference between the travel and high school softball helps prepare them in different ways as these select players seek chances to play college softball.
Abby Daniel is playing in the ASA tournament this week as a member of the Tennessee Mustangs, and she also plays high school ball in the spring at Ooltewah, where she’s entering her senior year. Daniel said she prefers the challenge of facing elite competition in summer ball over the high school season.
“I feel like it’s more competitive and the teams are better when you get to pick who you want on your team,” she said Thursday at Frost Stadium. “High school is more relaxed, but I just like the competitiveness of select ball in the summer.
“I feel like high school ball is like a warm-up in the spring and then you can go straight into summer and you’re already used to playing. It just gets you prepared.”
Keith Payne, coach of the Atlanta-area Georgia Stealth travel team, also feels that his players prefer summer ball.
“I definitely feel that they enjoy the travel ball side more,” Payne said. “It gives them the opportunity to get away from home and play other teams and see how other teams differ and how they’re the same.
“As far as high school, I think they do enjoy that, too, because it’s your high school and it is where you’ve grown up, so you want to do well for your school. But overall I think you’ll find that for most of the girls, travel ball is where they have the most fun.”
Payne said the practice time players get in high school helps prepare them to be more effective on their travel teams and for the demands of college softball.
“The high school season is a lot of practice time and a lot of repetition time,” he said. “High school programs do a good job getting them a lot of reps, whether it’s fielding or hitting or pitching. So during that time away from the travel season it’s good that they get the opportunity to practice every day. We don’t have that opportunity.”
Another challenge for travel teams in the Chattanooga area are the differences between the high school seasons for Georgia and Tennessee. The Georgia high school season is in the fall, while Tennessee plays high school softball in the spring.
Eddie Towns, coach of the Chattanooga-area Mustangs, said that he tries to use the split seasons to keep from overworking his players during the school year.
“It’s worked good for us because it cuts our season down, and I think that’s been good for our girls,” he said. “I think sometimes you can play too much. In the spring when the Tennessee girls are playing [high school ball] we’ll pick up some Georgia girls and play, and in the fall when the Georgia girls are playing we pick up some extra Tennessee girls for our team.”
For Georgia Stealth player Savannah Chapman, the camaraderie of being away from home and school along with the ability to face the best players in the country makes travel ball her favorite of the two.
“I feel like travel is a lot more competitive,” the North Forsyth High student said before playing Thursday at the Summit of Softball complex. “You get a whole different pool of girls together and make a team.
“Personally I like travel ball better, because you don’t have all the senior-freshman politics [from high school]. You’re just a team and you love each other like a family.”
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...