Tonganoxie Braves join elite group in Florida
Local softball team competes this week
More than 10,000 softball teams nationwide competed for a spot at this weekend's 2005 USSSA Elite World Series in Orlando, Fla.
Only 12 qualified.
One of those coveted spots at the Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex went to the Tonganoxie Braves 16-and-younger softball team.
"I guess the hard work has paid off," head coach Craig Lohman said. "The girls are excited."
And they have every reason to be.
Seven of the eight Tonganoxie girls, who have played together for six years, never have experienced a tournament of this magnitude. ESPN will televise some of the games, though Lohman said he was unsure of which games and in what regions they'll be shown.
"I feel really privileged," said Amie Riddle, who is a team captain. "I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities for the girls who want to go farther and play in college."
She said most of the girls, herself included, would want to play softball at the college level.
The last time the Braves had received this kind of attention was last year when they won the American Fastpitch Association 14B Nationals, a 64-team tournament that was held in Tonganoxie. And yet that 14B softball tournament was "by far" less prestigious than this weekend's tournament, Lohman said.
"This is just the next step farther," he said. "The eight (Tonganoxie) girls will never see this opportunity again."
The pressure could get higher with the possibility of college scouts watching these games. The Braves, though should be pumped up and ready to go when the national spotlight turns on.
"Once we start playing we'll all get into it and forget about it and play our game," Riddle said of the scouts.
"When that comes I'll definitely be a little nervous," she said.
But, again, she said her team should forget about the cameras when the game starts.
The team played one last tournament in Johnson County before they hit the 20-hour road trip Thursday night. The team will return Aug. 12.
"It'll be a good tune-up to go to Florida," Lohman said.
The tournament this weekend guarantees each of the 12 teams to play four games. Every team will play two games in the pool play round to determine the seeding. Then it's double elimination in the bracket rounds.
Besides going 5-1 to qualify for the national tournament, raising nearly $10,500 for the entire trip, including hotel rooms and a chartered bus, was one of the toughest part, Lohman said. Each girl was responsible for raising her own funds.
The girls managed to raise most of the money from raffling quarter-sides of beef donated by April Valley Farms in Leavenworth. Another $724 was raised from a car wash on July 23. Area businesses also made contributions. As of July 21, $6,500 had been raised.
Lohman said they tried to raise more money, but the parents did have to supply money from their own pockets.
"I don't want people to think they're paying for the vacation," Lohman said, referring to donors. "They're not."
On the beach
Going to amusement parks will depend on the games schedule, but you can almost bet the players will stick their toes in the sandy beaches of the Sunshine State.
Riddle said she was looking forward to the sightseeing portion of the trip because she's never visited Orlando.
"I want to go to the beach and Disney World just to say I've been there," she said.
If the girls play until Aug. 9, they'll use Aug. 10 to recuperate. Then it's off to Daytona Beach before heading home, Lohman said of the tentative agenda.
Only two girls have seen the beach, Lohman said.
"With this opportunity, we're going to take it and go," Lohman said. "We're too close not to go."