Heritage Park already spends most weeks and weekends booked with large and small tournaments, but a new deal with the Softball Players Association (SPA) looks to bring in even more major events to the city park system.
The latest just happens to include a few senior citizens still more than spry enough to jack one out of the park.
The SPA’s women’s World Series kicked off Thursday and is set to last through the weekend. The softball tournament features 22 teams comprised of women between the age of 35 and 75. More than a dozen states are represented, with teams as far away as California making the trek to compete.
The World Series tournament was previously located in Florida.
Cullman City Parks and Recreation director Nathan Anderson noted the World Series is just the latest SPA tournament to call Cullman home, and they expect the slate of SPA events to grow even more in the coming years.
“We had the men’s NIT back in August, and after that experience they decided to bring this tournament here, as well,” he said. “For each of these tournaments, you’re looking at around 30 or so teams. We had people showing up on Wednesday, and the tournament runs through the weekend. That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time in Cullman.”
Ridge Hooks, executive director for the SPA, said the relocation to Cullman was largely due to the efforts of Heritage Park manager Shelby Williams — combined with the quality of facilities and warm reception they’ve received from the community.
“It’s a win-win situation for Cullman, and our association and players,” he said. “We saw the class of this city, and it’s commitment to do a first class job. We look forward to bringing tournaments to Cullman for a number of years.”
Anderson noted the SPA tournament has a different flavor than other tournaments the park books throughout the year, which should lead to an even larger economic investment.
“The great thing about having this league in our community is that many of the players are retired, and they come for an experience,” he said. “So when they come to Cullman, they want to experience Cullman. They want to shop at our great local stores, and eat at our unique local restaurants. They’re really interested in experiencing Cullman in a big way. Not just staying at a hotel, but also experiencing our community with every free moment they have free.”
Williams said the tournament has been a boon for the park itself, and provides something a bit different from the usual fare.
“It’s just exciting and unbelievable to see a woman at the age of 75 out there having the time of their life and playing softball, with such a love for the game,” she said. “It’ll be a great partnership for the community.”
The SPA has also expanded its successful scholarship program to the Cullman community, and named a local scholarship in honor of Williams. The effort will give a $1,000 scholarship to a local student.
“We’re so proud of the scholarship initiative and we’re excited to bring it to Cullman,” Hooks said.