Hundreds of visitors are expected in Athens this weekend for the 2014 Alabama Recreation and Parks Association State Softball Tournament.
The three-day, double-elimination event begins at 6 tonight at the Athens Sportsplex.
“We’ve hosted other state tournaments before, but we’re really looking forward to this one,” said Ben Wiley, Athens Park and Recreation director. “We have travel ball tournaments all the time, but we are happy about this one because we bid on it and won.”
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks will throw out the first pitch during opening ceremonies, which are scheduled to begin around 5:45 p.m at the Sportsplex on U.S. 31 near the Interstate 65 exit.
The tournament includes three separate competitions over the next three days — the ARPA 8-and-under, 10-and-under and 12-and-under state finals. All begin tonight and will be played simultaneously on four separate fields. The only Athens participant is the 10-and-under team that plays Helfin at 12:30 Saturday afternoon.
“I think it’s going to be a fun, recreational tournament,” said Wiley. “I hope people will be patient if we do have some weather. We’ll do everything we can to get the games in.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the weekend forecast called for sunny skies with highs in the low 90s. There will be between six and 10 teams in each age bracket with 26 total teams participating. Wiley said he expects between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors in town specifically for the tournament.
“I think the hotels and restaurants will be full,” said Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks. “Some of the teams are close by, but a lot of the people will be staying all weekend. It will be a fun time.”
Visitors will enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout the complex for the first time after it was successfully installed last week. Guests can log on to ATHENSGUEST. No password is required.
“A few years ago, we hosted a state baseball tournament. It had that place packed,” said Marks. “This is one of the biggest tournaments we will have. If you see people inside the city from out of town, welcome them to Athens. We’re putting some flyers out, telling them about our downtown area.”
In addition to concessions, the National Guard will set up a moon bounce and agility games. Other vendors will be on hand selling T-shirts, funnel cakes and more.
Admission for the tournament is $5 per day and free to children ages 6 and under.
Saturday’s games begin at 9 a.m. Sunday’s championship games begin at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively.
The Sportsplex will soon be home to more baseball and softball fields to attract similar tournaments. The new fields, scheduled for completion in fall 2015, can be used for baseball or softball.
“This (tournament) is why we are in a critical position to have a new pod,” said Marks. “I hope we can get it completed by next fall.”