Charity and sportsmanship were on full display as softball teams from the Midwest competed at the Girls’ Indoor Winter Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament in Du Quoin.
Twenty-six teams from Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri stepped up to the plate and used friendly competition to raise money for the southern chapter of the Special Olympics. Though the roster only had 26 spots, nearly 200 teams applied.
The three-day event raised almost $55,000, almost ten percent more than last year’s tournament raised. Money raised helps provide year-round training and funds competition for the Special Olympics, which remains free for participants.
The tournament took place at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in the Southern Illinois Center, complete with a 61-foot ceiling, two softball diamonds and high-rise bleachers. Vendors offered everything from catcher’s mitts to corn dogs, and raffles stirred up excitement among the spectators.
Mary Riggio, a volunteer from the Preceptor Alpha Eta Sorority in Du Quoin, said she spent the past two years raising money through the tournament.
“Raffles are a big part of how we keep interest focused on the cause throughout the day,” Riggio said. “Donations from various sponsors help to keep it competitive.”
Jo Dodd, Area 15 Director for the Special Olympics, covers more than 10 southern Illinois counties.
“Sponsor support has been fabulous,” Dodd said. “Committee members have come together to make this our No. 1 event for raising money.”
Players, all younger than 16, were accompanied onto the field by coaches and Special Olympic athletes. As they passed through the tunnel and onto the field for opening ceremonies, fans marked the beginning of the games with loud cheers and applause which echoed throughout the SI Center.
As umpires waited on the sidelines, softball players took to the field and faced competition. Though the occasional stray softball threatened the crowd, the cheers continued and the audience appeared unfazed.
Allison Davis, a 12-year-old pitcher with the Hopkins County Heat of Kentucky, was more excited about the crowd turnout than the turnout of the games, she said.
“I play softball year-round, but this tournament is different from all of the others,” Davis said. “We want to do our best, but winning isn’t the only reason we’re here.”