Amateur Softball Association of America officials Andy Dooley and Craig Cress visited Chattanooga this past week during the 16-under girls' fastpitch national tournament.
Dooley, the commissioner/president of the governing body, and Cress, the director of membership services, sat down with Times Free Press assistant sports editor Jim Tanner to answer some questions about the tournament and the sport in general.
Q: What is your impression of how the ASA under-16 tournament is going here in Chattanooga?
Craig Cress: "First of all, 172 teams is the largest ASA national championship in the girls. For 172 teams, [Chattanooga] has beautiful facilities. I've heard nothing but compliments from coaches and fans that are going home coming up to ASA rep Cindy Inman and [tournament director] Kim Swafford telling them what a great time they had and thanking them for the hospitality in Chattanooga. Based on those types of comments, I'd say they're on their way to a huge success."
Andy Dooley: "I'm equally impressed with the facilities and the design and how it's laid out and the hospitality of the Chattanooga group. To provide transportation and golf shuttle service from the parking lots in here, that's huge. You don't see that a lot. To have this large number of teams in here and to manage that with the volunteers and the staff, they're doing a great job. I'm really impressed."
Q: What is your opinion of the state of global softball since it was taken off the Olympic program?
Dooley: "As far as the Olympics is concerned, there's an outside shot of getting back on the program in 2020. [The Olympic committee] takes 28 sports and they're looking to put two back on, and we're on a short list along with six sports, so who knows where we fit in. There's been a lot of talk about baseball and softball going in as one sport, and there's a lot of discussion internationally because the International Baseball Federation has headquarters in Italy and the United States baseball and softball federation is located in Plant City, Fla. I know there's dialogue going, but the best shot I believe would be in 2024. Where I see us fitting in is playing in the International Softball Federation world championships. ... I think we need to continue to keep our sport in front of the Olympic Committee and try to help develop it on an international level. I went to Amsterdam, Netherlands, last year to their championships and we talked to several different countries, and they look to [the United States] to be the leader."
Cress: "In softball, we may have been too dominant. Probably if we'd lost an Olympics prior to 2008 we would have remained on the program. ... The most important thing that we can do now is continue to put our sport on TV and raise awareness of the sport to not only the United States and the Asian countries, but also to European countries. That's one thing about the IOC where we failed is that most of the voting members in the IOC are from
European countries. So we have to get the sport strong there so it's liked over there. At our most recent World Cup, we had two European countries in Great Britain and the Czech Republic represented there, and I think it's important that we keep doing that. But really the most important thing we can do is raise awareness, keep our sport in front of the IOC members and see where they help us and see what we can do to make our sport better."
Q: How has your organization seen the growth of youth softball in recent years?
Cress: "I think right now we're pretty constant. With the economy we've seen it hurt some of our adult programs. Parents will still put money, obviously as we've seen here this week with 172 teams, and will still put their dollars and cents into their kids recreation and for them to have a good time. There is a lot of competition in softball. ASA at one time might have been the only game in town. Now there are a lot of other organizations, a lot of other opportunities. So we just have to continue to be better, but our programs have remained constant and we're happy with that. We'd love to see it grow, but it sure beats the alternative which is to decline. And we're not seeing a decline in the youth softball side of the house.
Q: Considering the success of the ASA 16-under national tournament here in Chattanooga this week, do you see the potential to bring more ASA national tournaments to this city in the future?
Dooley: "I think they have a golden opportunity. I don't know how many of our folks across the country know what's here now. A lot of them remember what was here in the late 1990s, what was here in Chattanooga and for whatever reason they got out of the bidding process for a while. Now they're back and when they go with this they're going to get good ratings, and when somebody asks us and we tell them what's here and about the central location of it all of that I think they'll have a great opportunity."
Cress: "I agree. They have great facilities here in Chattanooga, and they've shown that they can manage a tournament, and a large tournament. This is the largest tournament we've ever had in ASA-USA softball at 172 teams, so they've proven they can handle it. ... There's a lot of fine facilities around the country, and we're very fortunate in ASA to have a lot of great facilities. This is the first time I've been to these complexes [in
Chattanooga] and they're very, very nice. There's a lot of people who will want to come back here again."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478.