Wiedmer: Black softball circuit could be game's future

Wiedmer: Black softball circuit could be game's future

May 24th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

The five-inch-long pink and bloody scrape running vertically along the front of his right calf told the world all it needed to know about Murphy Lee's passion for slowpitch softball.

But since he is also a Grammy-winning rapper, he was more than happy to supply a few words on the sport.

"I don't like nothing about it," said Lee, breaking into a wide grin during this weekend's U C Me Instant Classic softball tourney at the Summit. "I love it. I breathe it.

"I've been playing it for the last 10 years. The circuit is a thousand-plus teams nationwide. It's like one big family reunion. It's just cool for us to get together and do what we do."

What the U C Me Instant Classic did for Chattanooga's economy this weekend was make it $1 million richer. One of 29 spring and summer tourneys sanctioned by the Black Softball Circuit and sponsored by Murphy's St. Louis-based company, U C Me Entertainment, it brought 102 out-of-town teams to the Scenic City for a single weekend.

Just as important, the Summit softball complex again enticed another giant softball organization to plan multiple return dates.

"This is just an unbelievable facility," said Clay Dickey, the BSC's executive director. "It has all the amenities of Disney World without the price. We'll definitely be back here again. The pressure is already on for who'll host our 2011 world tournament (on Labor Day weekend). All the North teams want it here."

The 2010 BSC world tournament is scheduled for the same Columbus, Ga., complex that hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics softball competition. The quality of the Columbus facility compares favorably with the Summit, but for teams like Murphy's U C Me, Columbus is three-and-a-half hours farther down the road than Chattanooga.

"We had teams from San Diego, Detroit, Wisconsin, south Florida and Houston -- 18 different states total," said the Park and Recreation Department's Greta Hayes, who has done so much to promote the Summit. "We'd like to see the Black Softball Circuit come here twice a year."

A word about the Circuit. Each team can have four non-blacks per roster. This weekend's women's competitive winner, Enough Said, counts a white woman, Stacie Symonds, as its star player. A Hispanic, Ronnie Tao, won the men's home run contest.

"It's really just a title," said Dickey. "There's a lot of diversity out here every weekend."

There are apparently also a lot of non-fans of Murphy's U C Me team.

"We're like the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars," said U C pitcher Tito "Church" Scott, who drives a Little Debbie delivery truck in St. Louis. "You either love us or hate us. We're the New York Yankees of the Black Softball Circuit."

Added teammate Tatum Polk, "It's pretty crazy sometimes. We'll have paparazzi out here at some games. Every team we play wants to beat us."

And that's just what Chattanooga's Doom Squad -- one of just three local teams in the tourney -- did on Saturday morning at the Summit, knocking U C Me into the losers bracket, where they ultimately ended their run on Sunday morning.

"Definitely the highlight of the tournament for us," said Doom Squad coach Ron Watson. "But just having big-time slowpitch softball come back here was fun for us. We just enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie."

Joked Lee, whose team was moved to Camp Jordan for its first losers bracket game, "(The Summit) was pretty cool. We got put out of there pretty fast, now we've over here. But that's a great place, one of the best I've ever seen."

Yet regardless of which facility the U C Me team played on, Polk noted one constant from the weekend: "We've felt the Southern hospitality since we left our house. This is an amazing place."

To borrow a line from Lee, Chattanooga's tourism folks won't like that one bit. Instead, they'll love it. They'll breathe it. They'll market it nationwide -- softball's Disney World without the price.