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At 3 o'clock Wednesday afternoon, the heat index at the Summit softball complex reaching 103 degrees, the Frost Falcons should have been anywhere except battling Downers Grove in the 18-under NSA national tournament.

The pool. The mall. A tub of ice. Anywhere but the Summit's No. 2 field, which could have doubled as a pizza oven.

Yet there they stood for more than an hour, rivulets of sweat pooling in their spikes because, in the words of outfielder Morgan Sullivan, "I just want to have fun."

Sports doesn't always seem fun these days, be it fastpitch softball, baseball, golf, football or soccer. Less wholesome agendas than having a good time often seem to take over. Especially in these summer events, which so often seem to bring out the worst in parents and coaches, and sometimes the kids.

After all, there are all those college scholarships to win, thus lightening Mom and Dad's college education load, which can be quickly overwhelmed by a shrinking 401K and bills that seem to grow as if they're on steroids.

And the 80 or so teams that have descended on our town for this week's NSA tourney aren't completely immune from that stress. It's one of the reasons each of them coughed up $650 to enter this event.

As Jeff Schuchardt - whose daughter Samantha pitches for the Badger Blitz team from Wisconsin - noted, "Sure, you think about a scholarship. But I just like watching her play, spending time with my daughter at the ball fields.

"Besides, the money's not that great for most softball scholarships. Almost no one gets a full ride. At a couple of lower Division I (schools), it's tuition, plus $1,000. I think most of these kids are playing because they love the sport."

Yet Ooltewah High softball coach Norma Nelson - who's coaching the Tennessee Ravens in this event - said recruiting does play an increasingly large role in her job, both in the regular season and summer ball.

"There can be a lot of pressure when the (college) coaches show up," said Nelson. "The parents want scholarships. It makes you sometimes play a kid you don't really want to play because a coach is there to see that particular kid. And whether you like it or not, you're really in this profession to help kids."

Sullivan didn't need any help getting into the University of Tennessee. She's an honors student about to embark on a major in bio-mechanical engineering.

"It can help you get into med school," said Sullivan of the major. "It's used to develop artificial body parts. I'd like to work at NASA one day, and I think it can help me do that."

A broken body part robbed Sullivan of most off her senior season at Ooltewah. During a rainy day, she slipped on a hill near the school parking lot, the fall shattering her left fibula.

"I got to play first on Senior Night, but I'm just now getting back to normal," she said.

So would she consider walking on at UT?

"I think I just want to be a student for awhile," Sullivan said.

But for Falcons teammate Jesse Forrester, her softball scholarship to Carson-Newman means everything.

"I've got 23 days left until school starts," said the recent Ridgeland grad with a wide smile. "(The scholarship) was very important. I always wanted to play college softball."

The recruiting is just beginning for Ooltewah rising senior Jessica Morgan, who batted lead-off for the Lady Owls and hits second for the Falcons.

"I've heard from Chattanooga State, UTC and Tennessee Tech," said Morgan, whose hands and feet are "extremely quick," according to Nelson. "I usually don't want to know when the coaches are in the stands, though. It makes me nervous."

There's no nervousness for Sullivan, however. Just her last hurrah from the game she's played for more than a decade.

Slightly lifting her dirt-ravaged jersey before the start of the Falcons' eventual loss to Downers Grove, she pointed to a bandage on her right hip.

"My last at-bat, I dove back to first," Sullivan said proudly. "My first strawberry in two years."

In her last softball tournament. Even on one of the hottest days of the summer, that's pretty cool.

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