25 Aug, 2014By: Peter Francesconi
Whether it came in the form of mandatory games in gym class, making the team in high school or playing at a rec level as an adult, softball is a sport that has touched just about everyone in the U.S.
With close to 10 million participants, according to research by Sports Marketing Surveys USA, the sport continues to be well-liked by both genders. Its popularity is boosted by the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics classifies it as one of the safest sports for children and adolescents.
Seniors too are playing in record numbers. Several organizations exist to serve the needs of softball-playing seniors (variously defined as over age 40, 50 and more) and their local, regional and national tournament scene is robust.
“We’ll have about 800 teams playing in our program this year,” says R.B. Thomas, executive director of one of those groups, the International Senior Softball Association. “But if you look at the total picture of senior softball, you’ll find there are a lot of teams that are just recreational; we estimate there are hundreds of thousands of those who just play for fun; they don’t compete in tournaments.”
But whether the sport is played by kids or adults, at its highest level or just locally, all its competitions need somewhere to call home. These locations can provide your event with a top home-field advantage.
Binghamton, New York
The four-field BAGSAI complex in Binghamton, New York, was built specifically for girls’ softball. (In fact, BAGSAI stands for Binghamton Area Girls Softball Association Inc.) In July, the facility held one of its largest tournaments of the year, the annual Stop DWI Tournament of Champions, with 80 teams participating and run by longtime Binghamton softball guru Lou Bishop. From May through October, BAGSAI’s schedule is full of softball events.
“Softball is definitely one of the stronger sports that we host in this area,” says Judi Hess, manager of tourism and special events for the Greater Binghamton CVB. “And a lot of that is due to Lou. His Tournament of Champions is one of the premier tournaments in the country. Plus, we’re blessed to have good facilities and a strong base of local volunteers.”
There also are additional fields available in the area, including brand new fields at Binghamton University and a lighted field at Schnurbusch Park. In addition, there’s the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, billed as the largest dome in the country.
Champion Fields in Normal, Illinois, is considered one of the best softball complexes in the Midwest, says Matt Hawkins, the sports marketing manager for the Bloomington-Normal Area CVB. The entire complex has 10 lighted diamonds (two four-field clusters and a two-field grouping), along with concession stands and restrooms. The fields are equipped with covered dugouts, bleacher seating, scoreboards and a P.A. system. There’s also a playground area in the center of the softball complex, so parents can keep their youngest fans entertained when not watching the action on the diamonds.
Champion Fields has hosted numerous Amateur Softball Association (ASA) national championships, most recently the 2013 14 and Under Nationals, and Hawkins says another national ASA event is scheduled for 2015. Other locations also are available, Hawkins adds, including fields at local colleges (there are four in the area) and high schools.
“We’re right in the middle of Illinois, with three interstates passing through, along with Amtrak and an airport, so we’re very easy to get to,” Hawkins adds.
Because of its key railroad facilities, the Dalton, Georgia, area was once an important battlefield for Civil War soldiers; now it’s a battlefield for champions, with top sports facilities that include Heritage Point Park. This 300-acre park has 10 softball fields in two pods of five diamonds, with all the amenities, including concessions, two playgrounds and a picnic area.
“The first time teams come here, I love seeing how surprised they are,” says Grant Shell, the sports sales manager for the Dalton Area CVB. “They’re really shocked. They say the Heritage Point fields are the best manicured they’ve ever played on.” Heritage Point is easy to get to, and convenient to all the area hotels, he adds. The park hosts numerous ASA and WSA tournaments, and recently held the Southern Softball Association of America Boys World Series, with about 70 teams from ages seven to 20. Additionally, since softball is big in the local community, there’s a lot of support for events coming into the area.
The location is convenient as well; Dalton, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains right on I-75, is about a half hour from Chattanooga and 90 minutes from Atlanta.
Dinwiddie County, Virginia
The multi-purpose Dinwiddie Sports Complex in Sutherland, Virginia, opened in 2011 and includes three NCAA and high-school-level championship softball fields (the facility also includes a football stadium, full-sized baseball diamond, and soccer stadium). The complex, which has won a number of “Best Facility” awards, hosts numerous youth state and regional tourneys, and is the home of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association State Softball Championships and the Dixie Girls’ State Tournament.
The fields are fully irrigated and lighted, and the turf is meticulously maintained and manicured by the Dinwiddie County Parks Department. Amenities include a full-service concession building, seating for hundreds of spectators, brick dugouts with electricity, helmet rack and bag hooks, as well as press boxes, a P.A. system, LED scoreboards and wi-fi.
“We have a great staff here to make sure our playing surfaces are up to top NCAA standards,” says Brian Mancini, director of Dinwiddie County Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “We’re starting to be a destination, especially for teams spending spring break here.”
Hamilton County, Indiana
Grand Park-the Sports Campus at Westfield, located in Hamilton County, Indiana, is open for business and already hosting a variety of sports, including softball. The new facility is minutes from both downtown Indianapolis and the Indianapolis International Airport.
“Softball is one sport that is going to be coming on strong in 2015,” says William Knox, director of the Hamilton County Sports Authority. “We have six skinned fields that are set up specifically for softball. We also have the capability to set up softball in our synthetic turf fields. We can comfortably house 10 softball fields at this complex.”
All synthetic fields have lighting, in case games run late. In addition, says Knox, even larger events can be accommodated by taking advantage of facilities that are offered at a nearby elementary school, creating a total of 14 fields.
A full range of hotels and restaurants is available nearby in various price points, and construction is underway on Grand Park Village, which will offer even more lodging and eateries.
LakePoint Sports, Emerson, Georgia
Just 30 minutes north of Atlanta in Emerson, Georgia, the LakePoint Sporting Community, which is scheduled to be completed in 2016, is already creating buzz as one of the largest and most comprehensive sports vacation destinations in the world, with more than 1,400 acres featuring state-of-the-art venues for 40 sports, including softball. The North Campus will be home to 12 fields sized for girls’ fast-pitch softball events (and for baseball for players ages seven to 13), two of those fields being showcase diamonds for championship games.
Each of the fields will feature synthetic turf technology from Shaw Sports Turf, designed to mimic the bounce of the ball off of real dirt and grass. In the event of rain, the all-turf fields will be playable immediately after the rain stops. The fields also will have brand new HydroChill turf technology, which will maintain temperatures that are more than 50 degrees cooler than normal synthetic turf fields. Six of the fields will feature traditional dirt infields. Other features include digital scoreboards and LED field lighting. At the center of the field complex will be a 14,000-square-foot indoor practice facility, offering a place to warm up before games and hold practices and training sessions. Amenities include 12 batting cages and pitching tunnels and space for infield practice, as well as a concession area.
When fully completed, the LakePoint community will have 25 hotels on site, in addition to dozens of restaurants, shopping and entertainment options. “Our business model is based on having long-term agreements with the top youth sports organizations in America,” says LakePoint Sports development partner Judy Sparks. “It’s important that we carefully select our partners to ensure our vision of creating the ultimate sports tournament vacation destination.”
Softball continues to grow in Lincoln, Nebraska, so much so that a new facility is going up that will include a 65-acre softball complex. The Great American Sports Park will feature 10 synthetic turf fields, says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager of the Lincoln CVB, right near the downtown area and close to hotels and restaurants. “Phase one, which will include all 10 softball fields, is expected to be completed by March,” he says. Phase two will include at least one indoor facility for hitting and pitching.
Existing sites for softball include the seven-field Doris Bair Softball Complex and the four-field Optimist Youth Sports Complex. “Softball has definitely been growing here,” Bombeck says. “With our new complex adding to our existing, great facilities, we’re definitely putting the money where we’re seeing the most return.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Ocean locations always offer some great entertainment options when traveling to sports events, and the Myrtle Beach area provides one of the best combinations of coastline destination with top-notch sports venues. For softball, while there are many facilities in the Myrtle Beach area, the highlights are the Grand Park Athletic Complex and Ned Donkle Field Complex. Grand Park features seven lighted Fieldturf fields, along with two lighted youth diamonds, with concession locations and a six-lane batting cage. The natural-turf Ned Donkle Complex, in the heart of Myrtle Beach, has two adult and five youth fields, including batting cages, restrooms, concessions and press boxes. Another area highlight is the new North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, with four youth diamonds and two adult softball diamonds.
“Facilities like Grand Park Athletic Complex, Ned Donkle Field Complex and North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex are a big draw for tournament organizers,” says Danna Lilly, director of group sales for the Myrtle Beach Area CVB. “The facilities are first class and, along with an abundance of entertainment options along our 60 miles of coastline, create the perfect environment for families that want to combine vacation with competition. Affordable accommodations, mild temperatures, great dining, shopping, and mild to wild activities for all ages ensure that tournament organizers walk away just as satisfied as the families that participate.”
Just to the west of Roanoke, Virginia, sitting along I-81, is Salem, a small city with big softball history. Salem is home to the James I. Moyer Sports Complex, with four diamonds in a wagon-wheel that accommodates a full slate of softball events, from kids to adults. Recent national tournaments include the ASA USA Softball Girls Class A 16U Fast-Pitch National Championships and the ISF Senior World Cup Adult Slow Pitch National Tournament.
“We host a little of everything,” says Carey Harveycutter, the director of tourism for Salem. The Moyer Complex sees NCAA Division 2 and 3 softball action, too, including national tournaments.
Salem serves as a softball hub for the area. Next door, in Botetourt County, is another four-diamond wagon wheel, the spectacular Botetourt Sports Complex, and right beside Salem in Roanoke are fields at Darrell Shell Park—all easily accessible. “We’ve hosted 250 to 280 teams for tourneys,” says John Shaner, the director of parks and recreation for Salem. “We have a great base of local support here.”