By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
After nearly two months, the Ohio Jaguars are coming home.
The mid-July tradition known as the Ohio Jaguars Summer Showcase will kick off Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the JAGS Complex.
“We always look forward to having the tournament here,” tournament director Scott Francis said. “It gives the girls a chance to play at home. They’ve done a lot of traveling.
“The main reason we host it is for the girls. They get to show up and play in front of our community. When you say travel teams, unless they’ve been a part of it, people don’t understand what you’re really talking about. They don’t know that for months these girls have been on the road. Our teams have played in Toledo, Columbus and Pittsburgh. In the past, we went to Texas, Virginia and California to play. It’s a chance to play at home. It’s a big deal for the girls.”
The tournament has become a staple of the summer in Jefferson.
“This is the 14th year for the Jaguars and we’ve had the tournament just about every year,” Francis said.
Twenty-nine teams in five different age groups will descend on Jefferson for the weekend.
“There are not as many teams this year, but that’s the way fastpitch is going,” Francis said. “There are just not as many girls playing. That’s not due to the popularity. I think it’s more due to the economy. People just aren’t able to travel around as much.”
Teams showcasing local talent will include the 10u Ohio Energy and Grand River Styx, the 12u Ohio Energy, the 14u Grand River Styx, the 16u Ohio Energy and at 18u the Ohio Jaguars-Braddock and the Ohio Jaguars-Ettinger.
The talent pool on display will be impressive.
“People go out and watch all-star games,” Francis said. “The games are good because there’s good talent. It’s the same feeling (for travel softball) except it’s at a higher level because the girls have practiced together for so long. The teams are better than all-star teams. The players are better mainly because they’re the ones putting in the extra time.
“When you see them play after practicing together, they’ve gotten better. It is exciting to watch them play together.”
There will be five teams in the 18u age group, nine in the 16u bracket, seven at 14u, and four each in the 10u and 12u age groups. Play will begin with four pool-play games in the 16 and 18u brackets at 5:30 p.m. Friday with four more games in those age brackets at 7. Play will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday in all five age groups. Elimination play will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday with the 10u championship game set for 11 a.m. The 18u championship game is at 12:30 and the title games for the 12u, 14u and 16u groups will be at 2 p.m.
The JAGS Complex is a perfect facility for the event. With five fields, fans can stand just about anywhere in the park and watch several games all at once. Those fields will be among the best the teams have played on all summer.
“I went over to the fields (Wednesday) and in all the years we’ve run the tournament, this is the best they’ve looked,” Francis said. “JAGS put new roofs on all the dugouts and painted them this year. The fields have all been dragged, even though they haven’t been played on for a couple of weeks. The facility looks amazing.
“My daughter (Courtney) started playing there in 1997 and it’s the best it’s looked since then. I’m not sure who’s in charge of making them look like this, but they’ve done an amazing job. I’m glad to see it. The fields deserve that.”
The players aren’t the only all-stars who will be on display. The same could be said for the umpiring crew.
“We get great officials,” Francis said. “Cal Cavalcante (who is the ASA official in charge of bringing in umpires) comes in every year and gives me the list of accomplishments these men and women have. It’s pretty staggering. When states host their state championships, they’re calling Cal to get his guys in there.
“That says a lot for the guys showing up here doing the games for us.”
The tournament would never happen without a boatload of volunteers from the players and their parents down through members of the community with no ties to the Jaguars organization.
“I’m just one of the volunteers who make this thing happen,” Francis said. “We have quite a few people show up, who if they didn’t, the tournament wouldn’t go off. Those people include Pam Forristal, the people at the front gate and the people who help with the fields.
“It seems like we get rain every year. Without those people helping on the fields, we couldn’t play. The tournament doesn’t run itself.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.