By Rob Patrick
Nine youth baseball teams from Bryant will be in the field of 172 teams from around the state as part of[more] the 29th annual Wally Hall Tournament of Champions.
According to organizer Shane Pigue, around 270 men’s slow-pitch softball, youth baseball and youth fast-pitch softball teams will be gathering at the parks in Saline County including Bishop Park and the high school baseball and softball fields. (Information about youth softball teams from Bryant in the tournament was not available.)
Play begins in all parks on Friday at 6 p.m. The tournaments will conclude on Sunday. It’s sponsored by Everett Buick GMC, Sport Shop of Benton and Saline Orthopedic Group, P.A., along with Fitness Unlimited, Jones Heating & Air, Lile Real Estate, Game Time Supply, Coca-Cola, Best Western and the City of Benton.
Bryant’s youth teams include a 12-and-under team coached by Darren Hurt; 11-and-under coached by Bill Kyzer; 10-and-under coached by Michael Catton; two 9-and-under teams coached by Chris Kinzler and Clint Hilson, respectively; two 8-and-under teams coached by Greg Riggs and Matt Orender, respectively; a 7-and-under team coached by Jason Greiner; and a 6-and-under team coached by Joey Small.
The 10-and-under team includes Logan Catton, Logan Chambers, Jake Cowell, Cade Dupree, Logan Grant, Coby Greiner, Sawyer Holt, Ryan Lessenberry, Will McEntire, Nathan McFarland, Hunter Mullings, Garett Nguyen and Chandler Taylor.
Their pool play games are at Bishop Park at 6:30 (Field D4) and 8:15 (Field D2) on Friday night.
The 7-and-under team plays Friday at 7 and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Members of the team are Caleb Addie, Austin Archer, Evan Barrett, Luke Dreher, Dawson Grant, Caleb Greiner, Kason Highfill, Connor Martin, Logan McDonald, Colby Morrow, Cade Parker, Hayden Thompson and Logan White.
The 6-and-under team includes Luke Bickerstaff, Reid Catton, Tucker Dunn, Matthew Griffe, Logan Hope, Carson Kemp, C.J. Nagle, Logan Owen, Chase Small, Dylan Stroud, and Daniel Taylor.They play at 8 on Friday night against Benton then take on Sylvan Hills on Saturday at 9 a.m.
The 9-and-under team coached by Kinzler includes Ethan Baldwin, Brooks Bishop, Vincent Caporelli, Matthew Curtis, Benjamin Devine, Cooper Kinzler, Clay McElvey, Caleb Jacobs, Hunter Stallman, Aiden Thompson and Daniel Walters
(Other rosters and schedules will be added when they become available.)
Those in attendance will have a chance to win a new car.
“Everett is one of the big sponsors of (the tournament) and General Motors wants to be involved,” Pigue said. “They’re going to be here giving away a bunch of (Arkansas) Travelers tickets and they’re going to give all the kids the eye-black. They’ll have a car display. Then they’re going to pick five people in a drawing to have a chance to win a $35,000 vehicle. It’ll be Saturday (afternoon) at 4. They’ll get on a Major League (distance) mound and, if anybody throws it through the five-inch target, they win a car.”
The event began as an invitational men’s slow-pitch softball tourney, put together by Hall, the sports editor with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“After 25 years — I helped Wally do the last two — I brought them to Benton,” Pigue recounted. “He would invite 12 or 16 of the top (men’s) softball teams in the state to play in his Tournament of Champions. They came from his triple crown, which was three tournaments with 70, 80 teams. The best teams would then be invited to the Tournament of Champions.
“Wally was going to quit after 25 years then I asked him if I could take it over and expand it to include baseball and fast-pitch (softball),” he continued. “He said, yes, it’s yours. Even with that small tournament, he just didn’t have the time for it.”
The tournament was dormant after 2005 until Pigue brought it back in 2008.
“Instead of just the triple crown, we just brought everybody in and we went out and got sponsors which he had never done before,” Pigue related. “If he raised $5,000, he’d done something. He’d give it to the children’s hospital and Keith Jackson’s P.A.R.K., and a few other things. But he got to where he couldn’t raise any money because the USSSA fees would skyrocket and make it where you couldn’t make any money off it.
“The A&P (Advertising and Promotions Board) here in Benton — they were huge,” he continued. “They went in with the parks to fix our parks up. The fields weren’t good but, over the last four years, they put in over a half million dollars into our parks. Now, every field is like brand new. That allowed us to bring these teams here.
“We had 150 teams the first year, which was almost the largest tournament ever in Arkansas. The biggest year was 2009. We had 202.”
Cancer struck Pigue before last year’s tournament and though it was caught early and he’s now cancer-free, the treatments, he admitted, slowed him down considerably.
“I was in the hospital and we canceled the fast-pitch part of it and we only had 149 teams.”
By then, however, he had begun to expand the tournament to include Bryant.
“I went to the BAA (Bryant Athletic Association) and the Bryant Parks and told them if they want to be involved, we could have the largest tournament, by far, ever in Arkansas and possibly eventually in the region ever,” Pigue said. “I thought we could get up to 300 teams this year and we’re actually going to be close.”
Proceeds from the event are given to local charities.
“We’ve got 92-page full-color programs with all kinds of stories, coupons and advertisements for our local businesses,” Pigue mentioned. “And that’s why we’re able to make the money that we have. That’s what I told Wally. He just doesn’t see how we’re raising all this money. I told him, if you don’t have the backing of your local businesses and the A&P sitting there throwing in money, paying my sanctioning fees and everything, then all that gate money which is the only thing you can make money off of – every bit of the gate from the tournament goes to the Boys and Girls Club (of Saline County in Benton), the Christian Community Care Clinic, the BAA and some of the other charities that help make the gate. The concessions are both made by the two youth programs. We expect to make around, hopefully, $100,000 for the local charities.
“And we give the best prizes, by far, of any tournament in Arkansas,” he added.