The City of Owensboro and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Fast-pitch Softball State Tournament have been synonymous for the past decade at venerable Jack C. Fisher Park.
This is likely to change, however, according to Jared Bratcher, sports director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The format is going from double-elimination to single-elimination beginning next year, and from what we understand (the KHSAA is) looking for a college stadium environment,” Bratcher said. “We’re going to look at the bid when it comes up, but our understanding is that the event will not be coming back to Owensboro next year.
“We love this tournament. It’s been great a run for us for the past 10 years and for many years prior to that, off and on. It’s become part of the city’s identity, and I think that’s the toughest part about this. People have loved coming here, have loved the tournament being here, and the crowds have been unbelievable through the years.
“At the same time, I understand the KHSAA wanting softball to be single-elimination like every other sport.”
Bratcher underscored the notion that the relationship between Owensboro and the KHSAA has been close-knit and mutually rewarding, and he anticipates that it will remain so.
“We’ve rolled out the red carpet pretty good for them, and they treated us wonderfully as well,” Bratcher said. “It’s been a great run, an outstanding partnership, and we’ll certainly be there for them in the future if they need us again.”
Julian Tackett, KHSAA commissioner, echoed those sentiments in a statement released Tuesday.
“I, along with the Association and its Board of Control and member schools, will forever be grateful to the City of Owensboro,” Tackett said in the statement. “Owensboro, its Parks Department and their great staff, Convention and hotel industries and business community at-large, have been ultra-supportive of the event, including funding tens of thousands of dollars in improvements to the local facilities in addition to significant sponsorship dollars.
“I am hopeful, and will make efforts to ensure, that they have a desire to be involved with this and many other KHSAA events and undertakings in the foreseeable future.”
Mark Calitri, president and CEO of the ODC Convention and Visitors Bureau, said winds of change have been stirring from some time.
“We’ve appreciated the opportunity to host one of the finest sporting events that the KHSAA puts on like the state softball championship, but with the new format we understand that other cities and venues are being considered,” Calitri said in a Tuesday email.
“We’ve been anticipating these changes and have been aggressively pursuing new sports opportunities which we’ve successfully landed, like the All ‘A’ Softball and Baseball (State) Tournaments. I’m also very excited that Owensboro was able to land all of the newly formed 2A State Championships.”
If there is a silver lining to the potential of Owensboro losing the KHSAA state softball tournament, it will free up more hotel rooms for the burgeoning OMGcon (characters and gaming) Convention, which drew 5,000 patrons this year. The city has hosted the event for the past five years during the same weekend of KHSAA state softball.
Owensboro has hosted the KHSAA Fast-pitch Softball State Tournament for the past 11 seasons, 12 of the past 14, and 15 of the past 20.
“We’ve had a great experience here for so many, many years,” said Amanda Rogers, director of Owensboro Parks and Recreation. “The KHSAA has a strong bond with our community, as a whole, and I certainly hope that continues for many years to come.
“I’m proud to have been part of this great run with KHSAA State Softball. The hospitality the city has shown through the years has not gone unnoticed by the KHSAA and the people who have been a part of this great event. I can tell you we have worked diligently from a hospitality standpoint to make it a great event for everyone involved.”
Scott County won this year’s event, which concluded on Saturday. The Cardinals have won three of the past five state titles.
Tradition-rich Owensboro Catholic won four of its record five fast-pitch state championships on local soil, claiming the 1998, 2005 and 2009 titles at Fisher Park, and winning the 1999 title at Panther Creek Park. The Lady Aces won their 2003 championship at Tie-Breaker Park in Hopkinsville.