Softball tournaments bring millions of dollars to Chattanooga

Softball tournaments bring millions of dollars to Chattanooga

July 26th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

The Northern Illinois Thunder girls 18 softball team from Sugar Grove, Ill., is photographed by team mothers during opening ceremonies of the Girls Fast Pitch World Series at Camp Jordan on Monday.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

NSA Tournament

Today-Saturday -- Games at The Summit, Camp Jordan and Warner Park will begin at 8 a.m. and run until about 8 p.m. On Saturday, the games will only be held at The Summit and Warner Park.

ASA Tournament

Aug. 1 -- Opening ceremonies at 5 p.m. at UTC McKenzie Arena

Aug. 2-Aug. 6 -- Games will run at The Summit and Warner Park from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Aug. 7 -- Championship game at noon at Warner Park

BY THE NUMBERS

National Softball Association Tournament

  • 9-16 -- Age range

  • 180 -- Number of teams playing

  • 2,160 -- Estimated number of girls playing

  • $3.3 million -- Estimated revenues tournament will bring the city

Source: National Softball Association, Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee

Amateur Softball Association Tournament

  • 16 and under -- Age range

  • 172 -- Number of teams playing

  • 2,300 -- Number of girls playing

  • $3 million -- Estimated revenues tournament will bring the city

Source: Amateur Softball Association, Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee

It took eight sweaty hours to drive from Indianapolis, but the girls who play for the Voltage, a teen girls softball team out of central Indiana, were nothing but bright-eyed Monday afternoon.

Glitter-eyed, in fact.

The team, decked in lime-green jerseys, purple hair dye and face glitter, were among thousands of girls who filled Camp Jordan in East Ridge with cheers, chants and yards of hair ribbon during opening ceremonies for the National Softball Association's youth fastpitch A Division Eastern World Series.

"We're very pumped up," said Voltage pitcher Marissa Harris, 15. "We are a team that likes to have fun, and we love being here to play ball."

The Voltage is just one of more than 350 girls' softball teams that will descend on the area from as far away as Hawaii over the next couple of weeks as two national softball tournaments kick off.

Games for the National Softball Association World Series start today, and the tournament will play out the rest of the week at Warner Park and The Summit softball complex in Chattanooga and at Camp Jordan in East Ridge.

Next week, the Amateur Softball Association ramps up, drawing more than 200 college recruiters from all over the county. It's the largest recruiting tournament in the nation.

Behind the party trappings of the opening ceremonies, the girls in the National Softball Association World Series mean business. The tournament is for the Division A -- a battle among the best.

"These girls are coming to win. They're not just coming to play ball," says Mike Randolph, NSA director for Tennessee youth.

And the tournaments are more than just a game to the city. Combined, they will net Chattanooga about $6.3 million in revenue from hotels, restaurants, shopping and attractions, said Scott Smith, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee, which helps get several sports events to come to town each year.

"Aside from Head of the Hooch, these softball tournaments are the biggest economic impact that comes to our area," Smith said.

Head of the Hooch, the annual college rowing regatta, garnered $4.75 million for the city in 2009.

Harris and her teammates already have done their part to inject dollars into the local economy.

"We eat out a lot during the tournament. You put us next to a football team, we eat as much as them," she laughs. "And we shop a ton."

Like many of the more-than two dozen area hotels, Staybridge Suites downtown Chattanooga has blocked off 12 suites for the tournament, and already three teams and their entourages are settled in.

"They keep us busy, and during the week it just gets busier," said Rakia Haynes, guest service manager of the hotel on Carter Street.

Because of a "pool play," where teams square off against each other to determine who plays whom gets in the final tournament, even the lowest-performing teams will be in the city an average of five days, Smith said.

"They make their presence known," said Smith. "Most of them have paint and writing all over their car windows. They're wearing their jerseys around town. If you're in the vicinity, you will see them."

Chattanooga long has been a softball town, according to Randolph.

"Back from the '50s to the '80s, Chattanooga was the capital of softball," recounts Randolph, who started playing fast pitch when he was 9, about 55 years ago. "The city was known for its fast pitch, and there were just dozens of teams playing."

While the city is no longer home to the same flock of industrial leagues, women's leagues and church leagues, softball continues to play a major role in the city. Chattanooga has hosted some kind of national softball tournament almost every year since 1997. But Kim Swafford, Amateur Softball Association commissioner for the Chattanooga area, said the city is seeing a resurgence in national attention thanks to the recent refurbishing of the Warner Park facilities and the opening of the Summit complex two years ago.

The 2008 refurbishments to Warner Park included about $2.8 million for ballfield and land development. It cost about $12 million to construct the seven-field Summit complex in 2009, according to newspaper archives.

"The associations are encouraging us to keep putting bids in for more tournaments," she said.

Kim Smith, who has coached the Chattanooga Force -- a 12-year-olds team -- through 11 tournaments this season says this one is a highlight.

"It's pretty special that the girls have a chance to do this big tournament right at home," she said. "But we're looking to be the best. We'd love to win the whole thing."

For Paul Harrison, who coaches a 14-and-under team from Lakesite, the World Series is an opportunity to see the girls pull together in a new way.

"It means a whole lot to the girls," he said. "They're just like a family, and these events give them a lot of pride in what they're doing."

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.