By Kyle Koso
Triple Crown Sports
Once the COVID-19 pandemic began to erase plans for softball teams in spring and summer 2020, there was no more “normal” route for getting club players in front of college coaches. Whatever progress you could make came from whatever you could accomplish in an email or shared video.
The smoke still hasn’t cleared from all this disruption, but there are some signs of the recruiting gears getting back in rhythm. To no one’s surprise, Triple Crown’s Ronald McDonald event has been a beacon of hope and excitement, given how it’s filled that role for 28 years. Over the course of two weekends, more than 400 teams in multiple age divisions will make their stand in and around metro Houston.
Ages 18u, 16u and some 14u will run Oct. 16-18; the 10u, 12u and other 14u will go Oct. 23-25. The event donates $100 per team and a portion of merchandise sales to the Ronald McDonald House charity.
The geographical reach of the event makes this one of the fall’s most dynamic events, as teams from Washington to New Jersey and California to Mississippi are locked in for their five-game guarantee. There’s a real sense of relief that accompanies the 2020 Ronald McDonald, with so many teams determined to get their players back on college radars, while also having the depth of their skills tested.
“Every year we come, the girls loved the tournament. It’s fun, and especially so because we get to leave California,” said Rick LeMaster of the SoCal Athletics, who is bringing three teams this year and has been to the event twice before. “We get to see a lot of coaches and face really good competition. That’s the main thing look for, to see that top-notch competition. I don’t mind getting beat if the other team is better than us.
“(Tournament director) Jonathan (Lampl) is the greatest. He does anything we ask, gets back to us quickly, and that’s almost unheard of. So many places, once they get your money, it’s hard to get questions answered, so that goes a long ways.”
From the college coach side, the Ronald McDonald event is a time-honored way to get in step with available talent when most everyone feels like they are playing catch-up.
“We are big relationship coaches, and we like to see the athletes in person to get a feel for them on and off the field. It’s been tough that way, watching athletes from a distance,” said Juliaclaire Plezbert, head coach at Goshen College, an NAIA program in Indiana, who will be at Ronald McDonald for her second time. “The Ronald McDonald event allows us to see a lot of great talent from all over, which is great for us. It’s got high-level competition, and it’s put on very well. We really enjoy that experience — there are a couple kids we have our eye on already who will be down there, and we are looking to open the door for our 2022 class.”
“There’s been a lack of there events to go to, and a lot of girls out there who aren’t getting recruited. I’m going down there to offer some girls an opportunity, and to see if they want to come to North Dakota to get their education,” said Kevin Gall of the NAIA University of Jamestown, who has been with the program 21 years and is coming to Ronald McDonald for the first time. “It’s a great event; I’ve never been to Houston before, but the opportunity to go is here. We talk about that opportunity to go there, and it’ll be like Christmas for us because we’ll get to watch some ball and see some players. There’s a certain level of joy that brings … taking in some softball when we haven’t been able to do that for a while."
Follow the Oct. 16-18 schedule HERE >> https://bit.ly/35d45bZ
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Triple Crown Sports, plus a unified group of the top fastpitch clubs in Texas, have elected to pull next week’s event (Texas 4th of July) from the Scrap Yard facility in the Houston area. The decision was made to acknowledge the hurt many players and coaches felt by recent comments made by the leadership of the Scrap Yard Dawgs program.
The group, which includes Triple Crown, Texas Glory, Texas Bombers, Impact Gold, Texas Blaze, American Freedom, Texas Aces, Illusions Gold and others, received a massive outcry from former and current players about the recent Twitter post. We believe sensitivity and tone are important ingredients of respect. Through sports we can help unify the many voices that deserve support in their right to protest and call for needed change as millions of people seek a new path for justice.
We support the professional players on the Scrap Yard team in the outrage and disappointment they felt. With that said, we will be moving our games starting on July 1-5 to alternative facilities in the Greater Houston area.
Triple Crown Sports is proud to announce the return of fastpitch to Colorado with the creation of the TC Youth Fastpitch League.
The League begins Saturday, June 20, and will feature four other weekends across the summer calendar. Teams ages 12u-18u will be guaranteed six games per weekend in a non-tournament format with the goal to give players an opportunity to get games in this summer despite COVID-19 and the elimination of tournament play.
“I’m excited to see teams in uniforms and parents and fans cheering them on,” said Triple Crown Fastpitch event director Kelly Berry. “We’ve worked hard to get youth softball back on the field in Colorado, and this weekend we get to see our hard work in action. We are grateful to the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins for allowing us to host our new weekend league concept.”
Strict safety protocols will be in place at all facilities using Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and CDC guidelines. Each weekend of the TCYFL will be designed for local-area, drive-radius teams in an effort to minimize extensive travel.
“We’ve worked extremely hard to get back on to the ballfield in a competitive fashion,” said Triple Crown founder Dave King. “This weekend is a great testament to our work. We can’t wait to see everyone out there this weekend!”
Should the prohibition on sports tournaments in Colorado come to end, Triple Crown is prepared to convert back to tournaments.
The full schedule of the league is below:
Weekend #1 – June 19-21, Fort Collins
Weekend #2 – June 26-28, Longmont & Loveland
Weekend #3 – July 1-5, Northern Colorado
Weekend #4 – July 10-12, TBD
Weekend #5 – July 17-19, Denver Metro
After more than two months without the game of fastpitch, Triple Crown Sports is proud to put teams and athletes back on the diamond this weekend for the 2020 TC OKC tournament.
Twenty-two clubs from around the region will converge upon Oklahoma’s capital city for the first time since the majority of the sports world shut down in early March. Across Saturday and Sunday, each team will get a guaranteed four games of pool play before heading into a single-elimination bracket. Teams from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas will be represented in the field.
“We couldn’t be more excited to get out on the diamond this weekend,” said tournament director Sarah Pow. “Ultimately, we’re here to put on a great event for the kids. We hope this is a first step in ensuring a safe return to the bigger events that we know and love on the summer schedule.”
In conjunction with Sports UAC (United Against COVID), Triple Crown Sports has worked diligently to create a set of protocols to ensure the safety of athletes, coaches and fans. The guidelines have been vetted by other governing bodies, municipalities, event managers, public health sectors, coaches and more. In addition to these new rules, TCS is also following strict CDC recommendations.
“Triple Crown is beyond excited to welcome players, coaches and families to the first TC event since COVID-19 changed the world forever,” said Triple Crown CEO Keri King. “We are thankful to Oklahoma for a progressive stance towards a return to outdoor sports and we have designed safe return protocols that should ensure the safest possible experience. Play ball!”
Oklahoma City marks the first of several fastpitch tournaments Triple Crown has planned this summer and into the fall. The Fourth of July event has been split into four regions (Southern California, Colorado, Texas & Tennessee), events in Texas and Myrtle Beach are filling up fast, and organizers have found new dates for tournaments on the West Coast.
For a complete list of Triple Crown tournaments in your area, visit: www.triplecrownfastpitch.com.
Triple Crown Sports’ signature fastpitch event, the Colorado 4th of July tournament, will take on a different shape in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and making summer travel as comfortable as possible for youth softball programs.
There will be four distinct regional 4th of July events this year, all of them with the same format of a 6-game guarantee in the 18u/16u/14u/12u age groups. The date range is expected to be June 29-July 7 (depending on team count and facility availability), with Power Pools and Open Divisions at each setting:
Southern California (Riverside/Chino Hills)
Colorado (Denver Metro)
Texas (Houston/The Woodlands)
As of mid-May, different parts of the United States are approaching the return of sports with different timelines. Triple Crown will be monitoring the situation at these four regions on a daily basis and communicating with teams when there is news to share.
Triple Crown has multiple plans under consideration that will be dedicated to ensuring the safety and health of athletes, coaches and fans. Each 4th of July event will be run while keeping teams and spectators at the heart of our safety protocols.
The four-region concept allows teams to start making plans now for their 4th of July experience, which will feature terrific competition and thus attract, as always, a variety of college programs who will use the event as a key piece of their strategy for recruiting future players. This is also a great opportunity for teams that don't usually travel to Colorado to play in the event.
“After reaching out to hundreds of club programs, we know that traveling this summer is a concern for teams. Triple Crown has the contacts and connections to make a regional 4th of July happen,” said event director Stephanie Klaviter. “There are ways to get back on the field safely, and we see various complexes coming back and ready to open. With multiple regions, teams can pick the best fit and also ease some of the travel demands in a time where being closer to home might feel more comfortable.”
For more information, please contact:
Or go to www.cosparkfire.com
This year marks the 31st season for Firecrackers Softball, one of the giant brands in club softball and now flexing muscle around the country in 20 states. Highlights for the organization run far and wide, with another impressive group suiting up at 16u, the Brashear/Hicks squad born and based in San Diego.
Bill Hicks runs that 16u team and doubles up for the organization with a 14u team with athletes hailing from San Diego and Orange County. Triple Crown event directors and others have taken note of Hicks’ determination to train his athletes and prepare them for future exploits in the sport, with the 16u team holding up just fine at large-scale events, even against 18u competition.
Hicks played multiple sports growing up and earned a scholarship to play basketball at San Diego State, then got into coaching when his daughter Katy started playing softball. She’s already a D-I signee, heading to George Mason in the fall of 2021.
Q: How did you get yourself up to speed in terms of softball?
A: It all started in 6u T-ball, where I was a helper dad, so I was always the guy who helped but made sure I was learning from the coaches. W went through 8u, and I was invited to be on board of directors of the local league. Coming through rec ball into 10u, I was learning how to do budgets and make giant schedules and just organize things.
I coached my daughter’s team for one year, and we did pretty good. About the time she hit first-year 12’s, she came to her Mom and I and asked if she could play All-Stars all year round, and we explained, that means you’ll be playing travel ball. This was in 2014; we found a team for her, she tried it for the fall season and absolutely fell in love. They asked if I would do some managerial tasks at the end of the year. I came on board, started doing the budgets and scheduling, and that’s how it grew … a little at a time.
Q: At some point, you decided to get into the dugout. How did that happen?
A: The next year, 2015, I got a call from a travel club in San Diego, and they asked if I would be willing to take that age group, that was the 2021 grad year. They did not have that age group in the organization, and I had been recommended by some people in the rec ball community. I said yes, so we had tryouts for a second-year 12u team, and that was our beginning.
Q: The softball scene in SoCal appears to have many strong personalities. How do you navigate that?
A: It does take a certain personality to do it. You have to be fair yet firm with how you run the team. You have to be open-minded. You have to know what you have and be willing to be a unique individual. In Southern California, there are so many personalities … it’s easy to say, I just want to be like that coach, emulate that person. But some of the most successful coaches you’ll see are the ones who don’t conform to what everyone else does. They don’t follow - they are the leaders, the rainmakers. It’s really why I felt such a connection with Sean Brashear, and above him, Tony Rico and the rest of the Firecrackers organization. It really fit what we were doing. You’ll see in Southern California, it’s very easy to pick out the originals, the trail blazers, the guys who have been doing it their own way.
The one thing about Firecrackers, and Firecrackers-Brashear specifically, is that allow you to do what you feel is best, to be unique, but they do that with guidance. With Sean, he’s always there to answer questions, but there are things I do that he supports that are new and innovative and different. They support you being an individual and give help when you need it. It’s a big reason why I enjoy being there.
Q: Once your daughter heads to George Mason, will you stay in the game?
A: Absolutely, I’m staying in. Sean’s big question has been what will I do after (Katy’s team), and the plan is to circle down to the group that’s 14’s now and work on their recruiting. After that, maybe we’ll put together a team that’s younger, but the plan is to keep right on going. I love what I do.
Q: What’s the main message your players and parents have to understand?
A: We try to help the players understand that they’ll get out of this experience exactly what they put in. We are fair in what we do in terms of showcasing; if they are going to work hard, then we will work hard for them. Everything goes two ways. Play hard, and we’ll coach you hard. To put it in one phrase, we are all in this together.
While it’s no surprise to event directors inside Triple Crown Sports, the youth softball community is getting another push forward in terms of skill and tenacity from the midsection of the nation, including Oklahoma.
In previous years, we’ve talked with and about Gametime Stars and OK Exclusive, and now it’s time for the spotlight to hit the Oklahoma Athletics, founded in 2010 by the father-son unit of Mike and Brian Madden. Brian Madden coaches the 18 Premier squad, which finished 2019 in the US Club Rankings Top 25. Dozens of A’s players have earned college scholarships, and the program now fields 35 teams, 26 in the greater Oklahoma City area.
Previous to his coaching run, Brian played baseball through high school, then at (D-II) Southern Nazarene University (Bethany, OK), where he was a two-time All-American, setting multiple program records before graduating in 2007. He coached baseball for one year as a graduate assistant, then moved up to a softball coaching position at SNU in 2009.
Q: From a distance, it sure seemed like you were all baseball, all the time. How did you get involved with softball?
A: I didn’t know how I’d take to it or like softball because I was a baseball guy, and I ended up loving it. I’m still at SNU, where I was an assistant for 11 years, and now in my first year as co-head coach.
Softball seemed like good avenue; I was helping my sister in the summer. I enjoyed working with the girls, they listened well and played hard. Girls are very team-orientated, and I saw it as fun, fast-paced and a different style of coaching. I jumped at the opportunity at SNU (with a small pay raise). I was nervous about it, but it worked out really well.
Q: Anytime you hang your own shingle and start your own club, there are no guarantees for success. How did the Athletics get started?
A: My dad and I were working with a group of 10-year olds at the time (2010); when my sister was younger, her team was called the Athletics, so that’s how we came up with the name … it was a solo team. That 10-year-old group became kind of our base team; eight of them stayed together through 18u ball, six went Division I and all of them played in college. I then had a group of 18-year-olds who were looking for something different, so we had them as an 18 Gold team and then dad’s 10u team. We hired a coach for 16u and 14u and then held tryouts, trying to get maybe four or five teams so we could open up a facility. We had 350 girls try out, so we filled eight teams right off the bat.
It grew from there; we weren’t planning on getting to 35 teams, but we kept expanding. We have five total national-caliber competitive teams, 18’s through 14’s.
Q: There’s a lot of pride and passion in softball anyway, but how fierce does it get in Oklahoma?
A: It’s become very competitive in Oklahoma over the past few years. How it breeds around here is kind of a love-hate thing. We dislike each other on the field, but we love that we are around that level of competition all the time. We are all trying to get better and one-up each other; we all work hard. We don’t have the quantity of talent that they have in Texas and California, but the teams we have that finished top 10 in PGF, those were all Oklahoma girls. We don’t draw from multiple states. Our players come from about a 100-mile radius, and we take a lot of pride in that. I think we are tough; we definitely have that underdog mentality. We know people don’t take Oklahoma super-seriously, and that eats at our coaching staff, for sure. We definitely have some of the best kids in the country and that’s been proven over the last few years.
Q: What is the guiding philosophy and mindset for the Athletics?
A: We want to be a family, and players know we care about them more deeply than just as a player. We want them to have a good career, we care about their families, and we try to keep the cost down as much as possible. We want them to feel they are developing as a player and a person, and that there are good people around to help them do that. We want to work hard, and we don’t make excuses. We want to be known as a blue-collar organization that gets after it and does the right thing. We’ll try to make you get better, reach the next level, and hope you have fun doing it.
To our customers, clients and friends,
Much like the rest of the nation, Triple Crown Sports is working through the moment-to-moment challenges and obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, doing our best to confront today’s news while also keeping an eye on the future.
With the office closed in accordance with public health requirements, our event directors have attempted to make the most of working remotely — reaching out to hundreds of coaches and parents and listening to how teams and families have been affected. Our appreciation of community has deepened as we’ve learned more about what you need, and what you want to see happen next.
We are as eager as you to get back on the playing field, but until then, know that we are working diligently to develop new events and opportunities for you and your families to look forward to once these arduous times are over. After 35-plus years in the event business, Triple Crown has seen tough times before and always emerged with more insight and determination to give you valuable, memorable experiences.
As it stands, our event schedule through mid-April has been cancelled. We will continue to update you on events in late April and May as new information is presented. If you have questions about specific events please feel free to reach out to the event director.
Through all of this we hope you and your families stay safe and healthy. Sports will return, and when they do, Triple Crown will be ready to deliver.
- Keri King
CEO, Triple Crown Sports
By Sergio Santistevan
In 2000, the Arctic Heat fastpitch organization was founded out of Eagle River, Alaska – but the passion for softball started long before.
The Arctic Heat can be considered a family affair, with husband and wife Carl and Michele Waters at the head of the program. The Waters are the founders of the program and the current Board of Directors. Their daughters, Courtney Waters and Andrea Canfield, are former players and current coaches of the Heat.
The strong softball blood can be tied to Michele’s mother, Lauretta Williams. In the first case of the softball family being doubted, Williams lived in Japan at a time when baseball wasn’t popular for women, so she went against the status quo and played with the men.
As a high school student, Michele started to become consumed and fall in love with the game herself while watching her mother.
“I played in high school and actually started coaching my senior year in high school. I coached a team with my mom,” Michele said. “My mother taught me when I was younger (that) because I’m not a very big woman, if you learn to play everywhere and learn to hit everywhere, you become more valuable than the girl that can hit to the fence.”
Williams’ advice to her daughter has translated to the Arctic Heat’s coaching philosophy. In practice, Heat players don’t have positions, because you never know when a player is going to be needed elsewhere. For example, if a college coach wants to see the shortstop play some first base, now she needs to be ready for that position and someone else needs to be ready to take her spot.
“All of our girls move around. All our infielders move around the infield. All our outfield moves around the outfield, and they switch back and forth. Our catcher can play third, second or center. Our pitchers all play third, first or second. Our second basemen can play outfield and catches,” Michele said. “We make sure that when a coach comes up and says we want to see a girl in a position, our team transitions and moves around seamlessly.”
Michele still plays softball today and follows the same advice from her mother. She is a utility player for her Huntsman World Senior Games team, where they have won a gold medal three out of the past four seasons.
When she isn’t playing softball, Michele and Carl stay busy with Arctic Heat, where their roles have slightly changed since 2000. Currently, Michele is the team manager for the 18u team, while Carl is president and recruiting liaison. His game-day role consists of never entering the dugout and solely interacting with college coaches. Courtney is currently the head coach of the 18u team, and Andrea helps with the teams as well.
Along with assistance from five other coaches, the Arctic Heat program is all in on the mission of getting girls scholarships, a mission that formed during a small youth fastpitch tournament over two decades ago. Before the Arctic Heat became established and were under a different name, a fellow opponent in an Oregon tournament poked fun at the team from Alaska.
“They kind of laughed at us and said, ‘You guys from Alaska can’t play softball, you guys can’t get scholarships,’” Michele said. “It kind of ticked us off. We were like ‘wait a minute, we got talent in Alaska’ and we beat that team.”
After somebody asked Carl and Michele to start the Arctic Heat, they finally did when Courtney was in eighth grade. However, Carl and Michele didn’t fully dive into the Heat just yet because they were still coaching another team at the time, Northern Impact. Once all the girls graduated from the Northern Impact, the team slowly fell apart and all the girls turned to Arctic Heat.
The Heat has evolved into a top-notch, non-profit organization whose sole focus is to promote softball with the highlight of getting girls scholarships. Since their creation, over 100 Arctic Heat players, including Courtney and Andrea, have earned college scholarships.
With the Arctic Heat focused with such determination about putting athletes into college, they don’t boast about their on-field accomplishments. On their website, it’s difficult to find any championship accolades, but it’s easy to find players who have earned scholarships and educational resources. Each coach plays an integral role in making those scholarship dreams come true, on the diamond or in the classroom. As an example, one of the coaches on staff does tutoring for the kids in her spare time, while another handles ACT prep.
Before heading to tournaments, Heat coaches will check grades from players to make sure that hurdle isn’t between them and college coaches.
“On our team, it’s mandatory that you carry at least a 3.0 GPA. It’s required to try and maintain a 3.2,” Michele said. “We’ve had girls maintained 4.0’s throughout school … we really want these girls to go to college. We really want them to succeed. We prepare them athletically, but we also let them know you’re a student first.”
On top of education and softball, all Arctic Heat players are required to do some form of charity work. For Mother’s Day this year, all Heat players will serve breakfast for local mothers at one of the supporters’ businesses.
Despite scholarships and success on the diamond, today’s Arctic Heat still experience many of the same struggles that early Alaska fastpitch teams faced.
“We come to these tournaments and we’ll play and there are times when teams beat us one to two, one to zero, three to zero, and they’re California, Texas, Arizona and Oregon teams,” Michele said. “One of the things I would really like these teams to know is our high school season is 26 games and that includes state, so if you don’t make it to state you only have 23 games. By the time we get to the first tournament, we have only played five games together.
“The teams that we play that only beat us by one or two typically have played 50 to 90 games by the time they see us … some of them are gracious about it, while some are a little arrogant.”
Through the years, numerous college programs have noticed the talent but lack of exposure in Alaska, so Carl flirted with the idea of highlighting Alaskan players to colleges in an event. As a result, Triple Crown Sports created The Great Alaska Showcase in 2019 (set for Aug. 4-6 this year in Anchorage). This event is one of the most successful recruiting camps for all fastpitch players in Alaska, as it brings together college coaches and players throughout the weekend.
“It’s easier for us to sponsor eight, nine or 10 coaches and Triple Crown to come up here than it is to send these girls to tournaments,” Michele said. “It also gives those girls that aren’t on a competitive team or don’t have the funds to travel to be seen.”
If things don’t go great on the field, the Heat coaches don’t let their players hang their heads, because they take pride in the group. They know other teams have more resources and get to play in more tournaments together.
As a unit, the Arctic Heat operate seamlessly despite the lack of playing time together because the coaches stress the basics. In October, the coaches make all players start back at the square one, from how to field and hit. The Arctic Heat makes up for the lost time by making sure every player is individually prepared.
“The girls need to work hard, play fair and everything else will come together,” Michele said. “You can’t be successful unless you work.”