Softball tournament entertaining for fans, players, volunteers

Lorrie McGill, center, and other Grand Island fans celebrate
the Islander victory over Lincoln Northstar in the third
round of the Nebraska State Softball Tournament Thursday

On the well-groomed fields of the Bill Smith Softball Complex at the state tournament this week, a variety of teams were hard at work.

Players batted and dove for balls, scuffing their pants in the red dirt and shallow grass.

Cheers echoed from the dugouts and bleachers. The competitive and skillful nature of the teams often pushed bracket play into extra innings.

Off the fields, several other teams were hard at work maintaining the cogs and wheels of the tournament operations.

Volunteers sold tickets and concessions, assembled scaffolding and wind breaks, and facilitated media coverage.

"Softball players talk about the importance of coming together as a team, and putting this tournament on is a huge example of that," said Tracy Douglas, co-site director at the tournament.

One of the highlight's of this year's tournament was the implementation and success of several technological upgrades, Douglas said.

The GameChanger scorekeeping program helped the tournament officials keep live stats of each game current through the Nebraska School Activities Association website, which increased the number of fans who were able to follow tournament play.

"We got great feedback from people here who were following the stats on their phones," Douglas said. "And we also got good feedback from people who were back at home. It seemed like each team had 10 to 20 more followers each day on GameChanger."

In addition, live video broadcasts of Friday's semi-finals and championship games went smoothly, Doulgas reported. She said tournament volunteers and staff had to make extra arrangements for the camera crews, but she was pleased with the video signal she watched from her spot in the press box.

"It felt like you were right in the action," she said of the video feeds. The NSAA contracted with National Federation of State High School Associations to conduct the live video streams for the first time at the softball state tournament.

Although temperatures hovered in the 40s during Wednesday and Thursday's games, Douglas said that crowds were not intimidated by the cold temperatures. She felt a steady stream of fans and parents stayed at the complex throughout the week.

One thing that struck Douglas as unique about this year's tournament was the amount of games that went into extra innings.

Tom Hastings, president of the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, said that from his vantage point as a ticket taker all three days of the tournament, the competitive nature of the games provided fans and parents with great entertainment.

"It amazes me how many long games we had this year," Hastings said. "It seemed like teams across the board were on a level playing field and were compatible when they faced each other. That made for an exciting tournament."

Hastings also said he heard good feedback from out-of-town families visiting Hastings throughout the week.

When the state tournament first moved to Hastings, he said some people from Nebraska's bigger cities were disappointed they had to drive across the state to play.

"But this year, I hardly heard any negative comments," he said. "I was visiting with some parents from Omaha and they said now they can't imagine having the tournament anywhere else. They look forward to being here."

"I feel like it's eye-opening for some of the eastern Nebraska kids. In their regular seasons, they mostly play teams from Omaha or Lincoln. This gives them a new experience."

To read more, see Saturday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

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