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May 2, 2014

Tournament bringing in teams, families eager to explore Cullman

Panama City, Florida resident Debbie Taylor has traveled all over the Southeast to cheer on her daughter and her West Florida Argonauts softball team.

On Thursday, the Pensacola college took on Delta State during the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference Championship tournament at Heritage Park. Taylor and droves of other college softball players’ families descended on the athletic complex for the first day of the three-day event. The tournament has brought eight college teams to the city, and the out-of-town attendees seemed to be enjoying their stay so far.

“The weather has been absolutely beautiful since we got here,” Taylor said. “We’re hoping to check out the Ave Maria Grotto while we’re here. We always try to visit some of the local attractions wherever we go for her games.”

Taylor said torrential rain along the Gulf Coast earlier this week caused flooding that closed the college Wednesday, and the team hasn’t been able to practice as much as it would like before the tournament.

Taylor’s daughter, Becca, is a freshman pitcher for the Argonauts. While her daughter was on the field, Taylor snapped photos of the team from her camping chair behind home plate. Alongside her, Steven Valdez of Austin, Texas sat perched on a fold-out stool with his long lens camera, waiting to catch an action shot of his granddaughter, Taylor Bailey, who is also a pitcher for the Argonauts.

“Taylor is a twin. Her sister Whitney is on the other side of the stands watching too,” Valdez said. “They’re both pitchers, but Whitney goes to another school. What’s funny is Whitney used to be a catcher when they were younger. They fight like dogs when they’re together because they’re so competitive, but now that they’re both away at different schools, you can tell them miss each other.”

At another field, Arthur Calhoun took in the game between Valdosta State and West Georgia. Calhoun is a bus driver for Valdosta State’s athletic teams, and while he’s driven teams all over the country, this is first trip to Cullman.

“We got in yesterday afternoon, and everyone has been nice. We’ve enjoyed ourselves, and you couldn’t ask for better weather,” Calhoun said.

While many families that came to cheer on their teams had never been to Cullman, a few were familiar with Heritage Park. Deanna Jones from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee said her and her daughter Kaylee Jones, who plays third-base for the University of North Alabama, have been to the park and the Cullman area a few times in the past two years.  UNA took on the University of West Alabama Thursday.

“Before she came to UNA, Kaylee played for Columbia State (Community College), and they’ve played at here at Heritage Park, and UNA played down at Wallace State this year,” she said. “It’s a nice park, and Cullman is nice. Plus, we know where all the restaurants are since we’ve been here before.”

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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