These days, there's nothing soft about softball. Today the sport features pitches as fast as 70 mph and some of the world's most competitive athletes. It has taken the sporting world's center stage with millions of players of all ages and skill levels, as well as a full range of fine facilities.
The Sport's Major Players
Softball may have been, at one time, little more than the favored sport of Saturday afternoons and casual recreational leagues, but all that has changed. Competition is fierce and participation is growing, a fact that has been noticed by America's communities, who have spent significant time and cash investing in the ultimate softball sites.
"Youth sports in general is one of the fastest growing industries around and softball in particular is growing worldwide," says Pete Rodriguez, sports facility manager of Osceola County in Kissimmee, Fla. "We've made it our goal to create the best facilities around to serve that industry."
More than 4 million players are members of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), softball's national governing body (NGB), which also sanctions competition in every state, including more than 100 national championships ranging from 10-under fast pitch to 75-over slow pitch.
ASA is one of the largest softball organizations, but certainly not the sport's only player. A number of other organizations-including the National Softball Association (NSA), the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and Little League International, to name a few-organize softball teams and events as well.
Junction City, Oregon
In Junction City, Ore., youth sports are led by Junction City Athletics, a non-profit organization that coordinates all youth soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball as well as manages several of the city's sports facilities, including Laurel Sports Complex.
Laurel Sports Complex is a five-field facility, with three additional fields nearby, allowing Junction City Athletics to host a variety of large tournaments, including several ASA state championships each year.
"Most of our tournaments range from 25 to 30 teams, but they can get as large as 38 teams," explains Mark Steinmetz, board treasurer, Junction City Athletics and District 9 youth commissioner, Oregon ASA.
The area's longest-running adult tournament is the Scandia tournament each August, held in conjunction with the city's Scandinavian Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in2010.
With all-dirt fields set up to accommodate fast-pitch softball, the facility also features home run fences, spectator seating and complete dugouts for all fields.
"This is just a remarkable facility for a small community of 4,500 people," says Steinmetz. "The people we have running these events and taking care of our fields are amazing. You won't find anything else like it in the state."
Super-attentive maintenance is one of Laurel Sports Complex's hallmarks, and the facility's team has perfected its post-rain plan of action.
"Last year, we had a 38-team tournament in June, and there was a storm at four in the morning, leaving an inch of water standing on every field in the complex," says Steinmetz. "Thanks to the dedication of the people who run this facility and these tournaments, those fields were drained and ready to go in just a few hours. We had 96 games schedules that weekend, and we played all 96. People come here to play softball, and we do our best to make that happen. If we can't get it in, nobody could."
In Worcester, Mass., there's never a shortage of softball, or softball fields for that matter, with fourteen fields in the city and additional fields at a dozen of the area's colleges and universities.
"This year we're hosting the Little League East senior championships for the third year," says Patrick Lynch, executive director, Destination Worcester. "After playing at Worcester City Park, the winner goes on to the Little League World Series."
An ideal location for championship games, Worcester City Park just received a complete face lift, including a new field, new fencing, grandstands and lighting. The facility also hosted the Massachusetts state championships recently, an event that resulted in 800 room nights.
Just an hour from the international airport, sights and entertainment of Boston, Springfield, Mass., Providence,R.I., and Hartford, Conn, Worcester is a convenient location for any sports event, putting your tournament within an easy drive of all of the Northeast's prime tourist attractions while keeping it outside the traffic and expense of the city.
Worcester is also a remarkable destination in its own right, featuring world-renowned museums and concert halls, theaters and galleries, as well as a wide variety of restaurants and nearly 1,000 hotel rooms.
One of the Midwest's premier facilities, EastSide Centre, is located in East Peoria, Ill. Winner of the National Softball Association's Outstanding Parks Award every year since 2002, EastSide hosts national, regional and local tournaments in softball, baseball, volleyball, soccer and track.
Offering five lighted, regulation softball diamonds, each with seating for 200-2,000, EastSide is prepared to handle the events of any size with parking for 1,400 cars, team locker rooms, concessions and restrooms.
EastSide Centre hosts the Mizuno Super 60 softball tournament, the National Softball Association "B" North World Series, the Great Lakes Valley Conference NCAA Division II Softball Championship, the Illinois High School Association State Softball Championships and the Illinois Elementary School Association State Baseball Championships. EastSide's Mizuno Field was named "Softball Field of the Year" by the Sports Turf Manager Association.
Great facilities are crucial, but in East Peoria, service is considered just as important. Chevy Ruder, sports sales manager at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, speaks highly of the staff at EastSide, "The staff is welcoming and friendly; they make it very easy to put on an event there. And they take excellent care of their fields. Even if it rains in the morning, you'll be back on the field that same afternoon."
Nearby, East Peoria's Illinois Central College (ICC), alma mater of major league baseball player Jim Thome, offers a second softball venue. ICC features one softball field, bleacher seating, ample parking, locker rooms, restrooms and concessions.
Wichita Falls, Texas
Let's face it. Texas knows its sports. And with all those sports-smart communities in the Lone Star State, how is a person supposed to choose the best site for a softball event? If there's one thing sports event planners know, it's that softball tournament trips are treated more like vacations by players and the friends and family who accompany them,so why not choose a city that's a great destination? In 2010 Wichita Falls, Texas, proved its chops as just such a place, earning the title Best Weekend Getaway in Texas by the "The Official Best Of,"a travel information show that has been featured on all three major networks.
Wichita Falls is more than just a pretty place to visit, of course. They've got their first-rate facilities,too. The City of Wichita Falls Softball Complex includes eight lighted softball fields, seating for each field, scoreboards, media area, PA system, concessions, and on-site restrooms.
"We get a lot of ASA tournaments, but we would be happy to have more, of course," says Lindsay Greer, director, Wichita Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Our softball tournaments are so plentiful that it's kind of like a well-oiled machine. We're looking to use that expertise to bring in even more events, Little League especially."
Wichita Falls boasts more than a few fine softball facilities as well, including Kiwanis Park, a 60-acre park with four lighted baseball/softball fields and Lake Wichita Park, a 234-acre park with two lighted baseball fields, two lighted softball fields,a 2.6 mile concrete hike and bike trail and one very unique feature-a model airplane landing strip.
Scotland Park offers one lighted softball field with bleachers, a scoreboard and a concession stand, and Sunrise Optimist Softball Complex, home to ASA in Wichita Falls, includes five lighted softball fields with covered dugouts, bleachers, scoreboards, concessions, restrooms and, unique among all of Wichita Falls' facilities, an indoor practice facility.
Alamance County, North Carolina
Easily accessible to locations throughout the Southeast, Alamance County and its convention and visitors bureau make sure that hosting a sports event is easy and successful.
Burlington, a city in Alamance and host of the Burlington Royals baseball club of the Appalachian League, is home to Burlington City Park, which features five softball fields along with a huge variety of other facilities and amenities to please athletes and fans of any events, including a year-round aquatics center, walking tracks, a green way system and amusement rides for children. Burlington's restored 1910 Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, is the centerpiece of the 76-acre City Park.
Just a few miles away is the newest addition to Burlington's extensive park system, Springwood Park, which opened September 2004. Springwood Park is a 78-acre facility located in the Burlington suburbs of Guilford County. Springwood Park features four regulation softball fields, two concession/restroom buildings, two picnic shelters, a playground and a walking track.
Joe C. Davidson Park is Burlington's third softball facility, offering two softball fields, a handicapped-accessible playground and a large outdoor picnic shelter.
Location is key in Burlington's softball facilities, with Burlington City Park and Springwood Park just six miles apart, flanking the city's major restaurant corridor, and Joe Davidson Park conveniently located right in the center.
"With these facilities, we have nine fields total where we are able to host a number of highly successful regional and national events," says Robert Cox, vice president, Burlington/Alamance Convention and Visitors Bureau. "A great example is Labor Day weekend, when we host the ASA Senior Men's Nationals, an incredible event that brings players ages 50 and up together for three days of softball."
If sports event hosting were an Olympic event, Kissimmee, Fla., would be one of the fiercest competitors. Take, as an example, Osceola County Softball Complex, the official Eastern training facility for the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal USA Women's Softball team, the home of a number of prestigious softball events, and a three-time recipient of NSA's national award for the Busiest and Best-Maintained Softball Complex.
Osceola County Softball Complex features five lighted softball fields, as well as a full range of amenities for even the most advanced level of play. Every field at Osceola County Softball Complex has its own bull pen, two covered dugouts per field, electronic scoreboard and PA system. Competitors and event planners also have access to eight batting cages as well as a three-story, state-of-the-art clubhouse.
"As you drive into the facility you're going to feel the ambience of being at a first rate facility," says Erik Anderson, sports facility superintendent, Osceola County Softball Complex. "We know that your experience will be outstanding because we insist on services, as well as maintenance, that are way out of the ordinary. For example, we rake and reline every field after every game. It doesn't matter what level of competition or what age group. At Osceola County Sports Complex, you can count on having the same surface as everyone else no matter which game of the day you play."
Osceola County Softball Complex hosts 35 events a year, including the three-week softball extravaganza known as the Rebel Games and the 90-team Gold Diamond Sports Showcase, a collegiate event that draws more than 100 college coaches every June and October to get a peek at the best high school players and future college softball stars.
Where softball is concerned, there's a lot of good news for sports event planners. The sport is growing, more kids start playing every day and remarkable facilities offering exceptional service abound all across the country. For more information about how to get involved or get started on your own event, visit ASA at www.asasoftball.com.