Former partners play hardball in Chattanooga softball lawsuit

Former partners play hardball in Chattanooga softball lawsuit

July 14th, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Founders of some of the area's largest softball tournaments have sued their former partners, saying they stole not just a base but the whole game.

J. Alan Walker, Pat Moyer and Matt Green own Fury Fastpitch Academy, a local baseball and softball training complex that founded the Scenic City 16s. The organization's summer and fall tournaments draw more than 220 teams from around the nation.

The trio has sued former partners Jeremy and Jill Higdon for $900,000 -- triple the estimated profit from a single tournament -- alleging that the couple stole the company's contacts and software and created their own identical tournament.

The lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Chancery Court on June 18 -- three days after the Higdons allegedly put on a copycat tournament under the name Connect Sports, according to court records.

Moyer, on behalf of the Fury company, declined to comment. The Higdons did not respond to email requests for comment.

The tournament, held June 12-15, began in 2009 with 60 teams and has grown to more than 220 teams. It is also held in November, according to website information and court documents.

UTC outfielder Cheyenne Willis, left, talks with coach Frank Reed during a softball game against Tennessee Tech at Frost Stadium in this file photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head softball coach Frank Reed said the tournament is probably the largest in the area and competes with high-profile tournaments in Atlanta in a growing business of "showcase" tournaments. The tournaments are primarily held to showcase softball talent outside school seasons for college recruiters.

"It gives coaches a venue to come out and watch athletes from basically all over the country," Reed said. "It has become quite a big industry."

Reed recently returned from a Colorado tournament and had plans to have one of his assistants visit another this summer in California.

The business of fun

Data from the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau sports committee show that softball-related events were expected to bring nearly 21,000 participants to the area in 2014. That's nearly one-quarter of the total 95,000 participants anticipated here for all such travel for sporting events this year.

Softball events alone pumped an estimated $5.2 million into the local economy. That amounts to 16 percent of the $31 million total economic impact from travel sports, according to the visitors bureau.

This year's Scenic City Softball tournament, held by Connect Sports, brought an estimated 4,650 people and an estimated $1.3 million impact. When Fury Fastpitch held the same tournament in 2013, the 3,000 people who attended had an estimated impact of $900,000, according to the visitors bureau.

Major softball complexes in this area draw regional and national talent for college coaches to see. Warner Park Softball Complex in Chattanooga, the Summit of Softball in Collegedale, Camp Jordan Sports Complex in East Ridge and Jack Mattox Recreation Complex in Ringgold all host such tournaments.

Papers detail charges

Fury partners said in court papers that the tournament and academy training has grown year by year since the company's founding in 2008. The Higdons were one-third partners in Fury and did pitching training, bookkeeping and correspondence with teams for the tournament.

In 2013 the group sought out software to automate the tournament information and began preparing for the 2014 tournament.

But on Dec. 9, 2013, the Higdons notified the other Fury partners that they were dissolving their membership.

Fury partners later learned that the Higdons had established Connect Sports, the lawsuit claims. They used the slogan "Where Athletes Connect with College Coaches" and held their own Scenic City Showcase softball tournament, using the same teams on the same dates and locations as the Scenic City 16s and with only a slightly altered logo.

The Fury partners are seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages for the company's loss of the tournament or triple that amount in punitive damages. The partners also want the Higdons to return client information and software and cease use of information gained while working for Fury.

Attorney Jerrold Farrinash, representing the Higdons, has filed a motion asking for more time to respond to allegations in the complaint. No court date had been set as of late last week.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.