by Kyle Koso
Taking a spin through the standard softball tournament calendar, you’ll see your fair share of Classics and Showcases and Showdowns – part of the sports language we all understand.
But with Triple Crown, a November event in Southern California tends to catch the eye and create a little mystery.
To honor one of the region’s ground-breaking coaching voices, Triple Crown debuted the Don Battles On tournament in 2013, recognizing the enduring ripple effects of Don Minard in the world of youth softball. From his start in coaching recreational softball in 1973 to his long association with California’s own Firecrackers club program, Minard has carved a unique place as one of the sport’s high-end competitors who never lost track of his goal to treat student-athletes with respect and dignity.
It's been a parade of SoCal all-star talents who have suited up for Minard’s teams, with his first travel ball run going from 1985 to 1992 with the Huntington Beach Outlaws. A couple of years later, his daughter chose to play for the SoCal Athletics, who wanted him in the dugout as well.
“She said I could do it as long as I wasn’t the head guy,” Minard laughed. “But the coach didn’t work out, and I ended up taking over, and I ran it until 1998.”
After working around the margins for a couple of years, Minard was asked by Firecrackers founder Gary Wardein to join his coaching staff, and Minard has been with the group ever since – the schedule is crafted to his liking by now, to be sure, but he loves having a hand in the sport.
“Gary Wardein asked me to come aboard with the Firecrackers,” he said, “and I liked the organization and his philosophy. Tony Rico was the head coach and proved to be an outstanding teacher of the game. It seemed to fit well with me, and it’s still going. I’m grateful they’ve let me hang around.”
One of Minard’s key contributions was establishing the SoCal’s Finest event series, a set of tournaments that included Zoom Into June, now one of Triple Crown’s truly significant showcase events that is arguably the most essential early-season gathering for college coaches and recruits. Triple Crown founder Dave King purchased SoCal’s Finest a little more than 10 years ago.
“Triple Crown put on good tournaments, and we entered quite a few. I ran my own set of nine tournaments, which funded the Firecrackers, so our parents didn’t have to pay dues for many years,” Minard said. “I wasn’t trying to make a lot of money, just enough to fund the team. The tournaments got bigger and bigger, I got older, and one day Dave and I talked – he asked if I was interested in selling. I thought he was the right person, and a couple years later the time was right and I sold them to Dave in 2012.”
Right away, Triple Crown liked the idea of having Minard be a featured face and voice in its realm, with the Don Battles On event starting in 2013 as a 14u fall championship. Soon, customers were clamoring for a more showcase/recruiting situation, and TCS responded to make it a five-game round robin for 14’s through 18’s.
Team numbers through the years are as follows:
2013 – 72 teams
2014 – 95 teams
2015 – 100 teams
2016 – 172 teams
2017 – 204 teams
2018 – 217 teams
2019 – 212 teams
2020 – COVID, moved to Vegas, 113 teams
2021 – 280 teams
2022 – 301 teams
“It’s a very well-run tournament, a lot of great teams in it, and yeah, I’m amused by it,” Minard said with a laugh.
“We are honored and humbled to run a tournament in recognition of such a great leader,” said TCS event director Kaitlin Flynn. “Don Minard’s hard work and dedication to running top notch fastpitch events will continue to motivate us. We are so thankful for the personal and professional relationship we have with Don.”
“Don Minard's five decades of unwavering commitment to fastpitch softball have not only elevated the sport but also inspired countless individuals,” added TCS event director Krista Crawford. “His passion and tireless efforts are a testament to what can be achieved through dedication and love for the game. We are privileged to have Don as a guiding light in the world of fastpitch, and his legacy will forever fuel our passion for excellence.
“We chose ‘Don Battles On’ to show that Don’s legacy will continue to hold weight and carry on forever. He has always taken the high road, focused on his events and his product. He is a man of integrity and extremely humble.”
When Minard was asked if a particular group of athletes stands out as a strong memory, he mentioned his very first squad with the Firecrackers.
“That first Firecracker team from 2000, it was very talented. We went to Nationals and lost our first two games, what they refer to as ‘Two and Bar-be-que.’ After we talked to the girls after the last game, I told Gary, ‘Everybody is going to be after these kids, teams will come swooping in, how many do you think we’ll lose?’
“And Gary said, ‘I don’t think we will lose any.’ And he was right – we didn’t lose one kid. You know, we never wanted to be defined by a finish at Nationals, and a lot of teams are, they’re so afraid their players will scatter. But we never did that – it’s one tournament, one week, and it may not be your time. That really impressed me that all those kids came back.”
Triple Crown also has a yearly coaching award named in Minard’s honor that is handed out every year before the Colorado 4th of July event. It’s another deserved moment of appreciation for a coach who understands the work and patience and rewards of helping young women reach their potential on the diamond.
“Prior to Title IX, and even after, things didn’t happen right away. It was a very slow process, and back in those days, a high school game was probably on a grass field, sometimes with no dugout,” he said. “Just a bench to sit on, pretty bad stuff. Across the way, a big baseball field for the boys, nice scoreboard, such a huge difference. Girls sports were laughed at a bit, to be honest. But there were great athletes even back then, and if you came to see a great pitcher, you knew you were seeing something special. Guys weren’t able to do what they did.
“Title IX got more money into women’s athletics, so they did get better facilities, and the pioneer coaches in those days still had to fight, but they did have those magic words of Title IX. More top athletes went into softball, and in 1996, the first Olympics for softball happened, then it exploded.”
Interested in getting your team in the mix Nov. 17-19 at the 2023 Don Battles On? Contact Kaitlin Flynn (firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-672-0546)
Don Battles On