Excitement builds as stars assemble
A gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic softball player attended the ceremony.
NILES - The Road Islanders were there. So were the Lady Sharks. And the Jersey Adrenaline. And the Connecticut Eliminators.
And don't forget the Fighting Irish -- no, not the ones on TV. These are teenage girls from Toledo.
The nicknames belong to teams who will start play today in the Under-16 PONY League national girls fast-pitch softball tournament in Trumbull County.
For the only time this week, they were all in the same place on Sunday evening at the opening ceremonies at Eastwood Field.
Teams in a rainbow array of uniform colors started gathering outside the Mahoning Valley Scrappers' home stadium more than an hour before the evening's activities started.
"It's my first time in Ohio," said Beth Schlener of Bethlehem, Pa., whose two daughters play for Bethlehem Stars.
The team made the 366-mile drive in several cars.
"It was about six hours," Schlener said. "Not bad except for the music I had to listen to."
It didn't take long for some of the players to start trading team pins.
"That's the best part of it," said Cherie Wangenstein, a member of a team from Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y.
"But after today, you have to be ready to just go and play."
Some of the teams in the tournament are veterans of national level play, like the Lady Sharks, from Bradford County, Pa., who qualified for last year's tournament.
But even those veteran players say it's still exciting.,
"We're from a small town, so it's pretty neat to go to big tournaments like this," said Sharks player Kelly Sinsabaugh.
And even the girls who had one of the shortest trips seemed to be getting into it.
Several members of the Ohio Stars, a Youngstown-area team, were hanging out with girls from New York in the stadium's concourse.
"It's exciting to meet people from all over," said Krystal Rodriguez of Poland.
The girls were treated to a performance by a local rock band before a brief program with introductions of local officials.
Also on the agenda was a brief pep talk from softball pitching guru Ernie Parker.
And the girls had an opportunity to talk with and get an autograph from Crystal Bustos, an infielder on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic softball team.
Most of the action in the six-day tournament will be at the Thunderplex in Vienna. But other area fields will also host games, including Harding Park in Hubbard, Liberty Township Park, Lordstown park, and Perkins and Packard fields in Warren.
The tournament is coming to the Mahoning Valley after five years in Raleigh, N.C.
"It's the best of the best," said local tournament director Dave Anderson. "These girls have worked hard and deserve a chance to play for a national championship."