One of Du Quoin's biggest events begins this weekend as the ninth annual Indoor Softball Girls Fastpitch Tournament opens at the Southern Illinois Center at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds..
A total of 28 teams from Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois will descend upon the area to participate in the three-day tournament, with all proceeds to benefit the 1,400 Special Olympics athletes competing in southern Illinois.
Indoor Softball Girls Fastpitch Tournament teamsHome city in parentheses
1. SI Dirt Dawgs (Christopher)
2. Louisville Lady Sluggers 2023 (Paducah, Ky.)
3. Blitz 12U (West Frankfort)
4. St. Louis Heat 05 (Ballwin, Mo.)
5. Derby City Crush 2005 Blue (Prospect, Ky.)
6. Black Widows 05 (Highland)
7. Illinois Esprit 06 (Jerseyville)
8. Z20 Lunachicks (Pinckneyville)
9. Triple Threat (McLeansboro)
10. Mo Co Venom (Fultz)
1. SI Dirt Dawgs (Christopher)
2. St. Louis Heat 03 (Lonedell, Mo.)
3. Louisville Lady Sluggers 04 (Smithfield, Ky.)
4. KY Crossfire (Paducah, Ky.)
5. Crush 2003 (Louisville, Ky.)
6. Derby City Crush 14 Orange (Louisville, Ky.)
7. Midland Magic 04 (Metropolis)
8. Peoria Sluggers 14U (Springfield, Ill.)
1. P-Town Fastpitch (Princeton Ky.)
2. Downstate Rippers (Marion)
3. Kentucky Clover (Louisville, Ky.)
4. All Aspects Elite (Dyer, Ind.)
5. Lawrence County Wildcats (Lawrenceville, Ill.)
6. Illinois Esprit 02 (Cottage Hills)
7. IL Force (Salem)
8. Ruthless 16U (Newton)
9. Southern IN Stealers (Evansville, Ind.)
10. USSSA Pride Angels (Arnold, Mo.)
Southern SWAT (Sparta)
"I have a daughter, Brenna Asbury, who has Down Syndrome," said Bill Asbury, event promoter and board member for Special Olympics Illinois. "She inspired me to do something like this because all my other girls played travel softball."
Asbury said the tournament has raised more than $500,000 thus far for the Special Olympics and opening ceremonies are scheduled for noon Saturday. Several local and regional dignitaries are expected to attend.
"We get every team to come there and we bring in Special Olympics athletes," Asbury said. "We pair them up with every team and they get to hang out with the team and they get to be pretty good buddies."
Asbury said teams are each scheduled (weather permitting) to play a one-hour preliminary game tonight - gates open at 5 p.m. - before bracket play begins Saturday morning. For scheduling purposes, Asbury said games have a time limit of one hour and five minutes while being conducted on two fields.
"Every team is guaranteed three games and it's a double-elimination tournament," Asbury said. "It starts at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and the last game should start at 1:30 a.m."
Games will start at 7 a.m. Saturday and last until about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The entire tournament should conclude Sunday night around 10 p.m.
"The first year, I begged and pleaded for teams to come to this," Asbury said. "I had 19 teams and I wanted 20 before the first night and I finally got a 20th team on Friday night.
"It was such a big hit, I had over 150 teams trying to fill 28 spots the next year. Now, I have over 400 teams trying to get in this now."
Asbury noted that part of the draw - other than benefitting a storied and honorable organization like the Special Olympics - is the Southern Illinois Center itself.
"It's gained a very good reputation," he said. "There's no place for indoor that has all dirt fields like the SIC. Most facilities have Astroturf."
The tournament includes eight southern Illinois teams spread across four age brackets, including the Z20 Lunachicks from Pinckneyville - who will be making their first appearance in the tournament.
"This is our first year and one of my team members was part of another team that had played in this and her parents suggested we apply for it," said Lunachicks coach Jessica Pyatt. "We applied and happily got in."
The Lunachicks' Special Olympics athlete is Addi Williams, of Du Quoin.
"For my girls, they are getting the opportunity to play for a good cause," Pyatt said.
Shane Bennett, assistant director of Region K of Special Olympics Illinois, said the tournament also brings awareness of Special Olympics athletes in southern Illinois. He noted that there are more than 23,000 Special Olympics athletes in the state.
"Obviously, it's a fundraiser for us, but more importantly it brings awareness to our athletes and shows kids who have the ability to play travel ball at this level that it's about the spirit of the game," he said. "Being the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics, it's an opportunity for us to showcase the history of Special Olympics."
Memorabilia from the past 50 years of Special Olympics competition will be on display during the tournament.
Chelsea Davis, Du Quoin Tourism Commission president, noted the impact of the tournament on tourism.
"It's huge," she said. "It fills our hotels and brings a lot of business to Du Quoin. This is something, from a tourism standpoint, we look forward to every year.
"We look at things to enhance Du Quoin, but our main objective is to bring people to Du Quoin, which is why the Chamber of Commerce and tourism work hand-in-hand with one another in bringing people to Du Quoin and helping local businesses."
"It's just a good overall event," added Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi. "You have the parents and kids together for a weekend and they come and spend money in our town, it's just a win-win situation for everybody."
Asbury said teams will compete in a different way in gathering signatures for a "Say no to the 'R' (retard) word" initiative.
"They've got to go out and get signatures and the top four teams with the most signatures will have to compete in another contest," he said, declining to say what that contest would be. "The winning team will get a pizza party donated by Alongi's Italian Restaurant."