Some of St. Charles Parish’s best and brightest young softball players had the rare opportunity to compete against many other top players across the nation last week, as the 8U and 10U All-Star teams competed at the Babe Ruth World Series at Jensen Beach, Fla.
Each team finished in the middle of the pack of 17 competing teams, with the 8U squad going 4-3 and the 10U team going 3-4. Each squad came up one win short of advancing to the championship game of the Diamond Bracket, the event’s consolation bracket.
It was the first time St. Charles Parish has sent teams in two different age groups to the event, the fourth and fifth teams, respectively, in the history of the parish’s recreation department to do so.
10U coach Steve Burford said the experience will undoubtedly go down as an unforgettable one for the girls on his team.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “The one thing that surprised me a bit was that the moment wasn’t too big for them. We came out here ready to play. I’m very proud of all of them.”
The team took a tough draw after Tropical Storm Emily necessitated a re-shuffling of the schedule. That resulted in the 10U All-Stars taking the field three times on their first day of competition.
“We kind of had to burn pitching there. The way it was done, we had to face some of the stronger teams earlier than we otherwise would have,” Burford said. “Playing back-to-back-to-back, in weather not too different than what we have here (in Louisiana), it’s tough to play three in a row. But they persevered. They kept fighting like they have all season.”
8U coach Mike Morrow is in his 8th year as a recreation ball coach, the first seven of those in baseball. This was his first season with the softball team, and it was certainly memorable.
“I’m absolutely proud of their effort,” Morrow said. “Our girls were able to bond together quickly. We picked this team the last week of May and in a little over two months together they really jelled. They played together in two big tournaments and found a lot of chemistry.”
The competition at the World Series, as one might expect, was fierce.
“You have kids from all over, in some cases a lot bigger than we are,” Morrow said. “But I think we competed pretty well and held our own. I already can’t wait until next year.”
Burford said that many times, the difference in who advances to the series comes down to who gets hot at the right time, and he said his team was playing its best softball as the season came to a close.
“They really learned how to be a team,” he said. “It was never one person that won every single game for us or anything like that. Somebody different always rose to the occasion.”
He added that he hopes the success of the two All-Star teams this year sheds a spotlight on the positives of recreation ball for young athletes.
“Obviously, softball gets more and more popular every single year, and a lot of girls are pressured into playing travel ball in lieu of playing All-Stars like we did,” Burford said. “There’s still a lot of merit and accolades behind playing recreation ball through the All-Star program.”
Morrow said the best part of the trip was the bonding opportunity it presented for coaches, players and their families.
“(The highlight was) spending time with the girls, getting to know the families and the girls a little better,” Morrow said. “It was a bonding experience for everyone. Parents and grandparents made the trip to see them play. We spent the whole week with them. It was a really great experience.”
Burford said when the tournament was over, his players were less sad to lose than for the prospect of splitting up, both for the summer and going into next season, where a number of players will advance to the next age group.
“Everybody ultimately was happy we made it,” Burford said. “They were sad to see it end and more disappointed to be leaving their teammates than the fact softball was finally over. Over the nine days we spent down there, we bonded … these girls are gonna be friends forever through this experience.”