After winning their District 1 tournament championship, the 14U Dare County All-Stars faced a new dilemma: how to afford the 5+hour journey to Laurinburg for the Eastern North Carolina state softball tournament. So the All-Stars out of Outer Banks, North Carolina decided to hold a car wash fundraiser the weekend of July 6th in hopes of raising enough money for transportation and lodging for the 11 players of the squad, as well as their coaching staff and parents.
Richard Ball was in the Outer Banks that same weekend on a fishing trip when he noticed the Dare County All-Stars car wash. Ball is a coach of the Windsor-based Cashie 14U All-Stars, a team that faced Dare County on three different occasions prior to the ENC tournament and who also earned the right to travel to Laurinburg. And when he noticed the rival team’s attempt to raise money for the trip, Ball turned his truck around and helped contribute to the cause.
The car wash would go on to raise over $2,000, enough to send the Dare County All-Stars on their way to a tournament that they haven’t been a part of in 10 years.
“They may have beaten us pretty bad in the District 1 tournament, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good team and good bunch of girls,” Ball said. “I had no problem donating a little time and money to them. Plus they cleaned my truck!”
“You see all of these teams that are used to qualifying for a tournament like this, and we’re just happy to have been fortunate enough to make it here,” said Tim Cafferty, manager of the 14U Dare County All-Stars. “Coach Ball’s contribution is an example of the camaraderie that exists between all of the softball teams here, regardless if they’re rivals or not. Because of people like him, this team has a chance to have a fun, unforgettable experience.”
Talk to any of the 35 teams making their rounds at the Optimist Club ballpark and James L. Morgan complex this week, and chances are that they will each have a similar story to tell. It’s simply the nature of a sport that means so much to the players that play the game, the coaches who guide them and the families who sacrifice their time and money to see their kids shine.
Brittany George of the heavily favored 14U Down East All-Stars is one player who was a late-comer to the sport of softball. In fact, before she participated this year, George had never picked up a bat much less competed for a team. It took some convincing from her Beaufort and Cedar Island, North Carolina friends, but having experienced what the sport can offer her, George now sees herself playing for the foreseeable future.
“Everybody told me I should have played my whole life, and now I finally see why,” said George, who is the Down East All-Stars’ designated hitter. “My teammates have shown me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and it’s something I’ll take with me for a long time.”
Sharing an equal love for softball are those who maintain the facilities where the girls in uniform give their all for a shot at the ENC tournament championship. It was the first thing the players who comprise the 14U Dare County squad noticed when the stepped foot in Laurinburg, and it will be the thing they will always remember about their visit to the town.
“Everyone is constantly working on the fields, and it’s probably the nicest place we’ve ever played,” said Dare County’s Meredith Booth. “You can really tell how much this tournament and softball in general means to Laurinburg.”
And hailing from a community with a population barely topping 2500, 14U Down East coach Shane Nelson can certainly relate to the importance of softball in a small town. The group of girls that Nelson currently coaches (along with daughter Hannah) have been together as a team since the age of 8, and though the journey to Laurinburg took his squad more than five hours to complete, Nelson feels like he never really left home.
“The one thing I want the residents of Laurinburg to know about us is that we all come from a small community much like them,” Nelson said. “The minute we got to town we felt the hospitality and professionalism surrounding this tournament, and it’s been a great experience for all of us. They do softball right in Laurinburg.”
For highlights and a wrap-up of this weekend’s tournament action, check back to the Tuesday edition of the Laurinburg Exchange.