There is still time to enter
a team in the 18-under or
16-under age divisions.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN — Thanks to a waiver, it’s not too late for area 18-under and 16-under softball teams to register for the PONY Softball national tournaments that will be played at the end of the month in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
According to PONY Softball’s Jim Arends, teams can register through the website www.pony.org through the end of the week. Because few PONY qualifiers are held in the area, local teams are exempt from meeting tournament qualifications.
The 16- and 18-year-old tournaments will begin on July 29 while the 12- and 10-year-old events get under way on Saturday. Those tournaments are closed while a proposed 8-year-old tournament has been dropped.
Unlike the past two years when the travel program Thunder Elite ran the tournaments, this year’s event has plenty of community support because they have become not-for-profit events.
Tim Kaple said it wasn’t a hard decision for Boardman Community Baseball Association to get involved.
“We formed a partnership with Thunder Elite,” the BCBA president said Monday at Perkins Park. “They approached us and said we need some help. We decided that we could make this work.
“We’re excited about it, it’s a good opportunity for us to give something back to the community plus showcase our complex,” said Kaple, referring to the Fields of Dreams that will contribute the use of six ballfields.
“We think we have a beautiful facility in Boardman and we’re anxious to promote this program,” Kaple said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to be part of this program.”
Also being used are six fields at Canfield Baseball Club’s McCune Park as well as Poland’s Dobbins’ Field. In Trumbull County, games will be played at Perkins Park, Liberty Center Park and Lordstown Village Park.
Lordstown excited to be involved
“In Lordstown, we embrace this,” said Marty Gibson, the village’s Recreation Department director. “It is such a nice tournament and it’s like a Community Week.
“We have four groups to run concessions so we have people running in and out. It’s just a fun time. And it’s good for Mahoning and Trumbull counties.”
The sites benefit from hosting from the profits they make through concession sales.
Phil Moore of the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau said as many as 300 teams could be playing in the four tournaments and that could bring as many as 18,000 visitors.
With rosters of 15 players and up to three coaches, PONY estimates each team could bring 60 when factoring in family members, a boon to area motels and restaurants.
Waived local qualifying
Kaple said for this summer PONY is waiving its qualification requirement for area teams.
“Most of the teams coming here have qualified through PONY qualifiers [tournaments] throughout the country,” Kaple said. “This is a national tournament so a team had to play in a qualifier and finish in the top three or four.
“In our area, we play a lot of Little League ball and there is not a whole lot of PONY qualifying tournaments around,” Kaple said. “So in this area they waived the qualifiers for us this year.”
Kaple said Boardman has entered a 12-year-old team.
“I believe that’s all that has stepped up so far,” Kaple said. “In this area, a lot of girls play travel softball so they are playing in other [events] right now. What we can do in the future is promote this a little sooner so we can organize to get ready to play.”
The majority of the teams registered are for the 16-and 18-year-old tournaments.
The 10-year-old bracket has 19 teams, including Valley Sting based in Poland. States represented in this event include Connecticut, New Jersey and Michigan.
In addition to Boardman, three other area teams will be competing in the 61-team bracket for the 12-year-old bracket: Ohio Valley Blast of Niles, Valley Extreme Red of Windham and Valley Sting of Warren.
16-under biggest field
In the 16-year-old tournament which already has 86 teams, five from the area are registered: Thunder Elite 16 from Vienna, Thunder Elite 14 from Vienna, Valley Extreme Blue from Cortland, Rampage from Ellwood City, Pa., and Mercer County Patriots from Sharon, Pa.
Of the 61 teams registered for the 18-year-old event, five are from the region: Thunder Elite of Vienna, Go North Coast of Newbury, Ohio Jaguars from Jefferson (Ashtabula County), Summit Rage from Twinsburg and Pittsburgh Pride from Ellwood City, Pa.
Games will be played from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. each day. Week-long passes cost $40 and are good at all sites. Daily tickets cost $10.
Moore said that changing the tournaments from a profit venture to a not-for-profit event means financial “support will go back into the community, to the facilities.
“In virtually every other part of the country, these are always not-for-profit operations,” Moore said. “Our goal is to build up the Mahoning Valley and the quality of its playing facilities to a premiere destination for national tournaments. That allows us to go out and market to a number of different leagues, even the NCAA.”
Stephanie Sferra of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau said PONY is committed to return for tournaments through 2010.