FloSoftball Sits Down With THE Spring Games' Alison Strange
FloSoftball Sits Down With THE Spring Games' Alison Strange
THE Spring Games hosts competition from all levels ranging from NCAA DI, DII, DII, along with NAIA and NJCAA colleges. Over 2,500 games are played.
In just a few short weeks, the world's largest softball event will be in full swing, THE Spring Games. Known as the hotspot for early season collegiate competition, THE Spring Games is ready to embark on its biggest year yet.
We caught up with THE Spring Games President and Executive Director, Alison Strange, to discuss the upcoming event, competition, navigating the pandemic, and the growth of female athletics.
“2022 is actually very much like all the years including and prior to 2020,” says Strange. “This feels very much like a normal year, in fact, it's our second-largest year that we’ve ever had with 2020 being what would have been the biggest had it not been cut short (due to Covid-19). Technically speaking, this is the biggest year that TSG has ever had.”
THE Spring Games hosts competition from all levels of college softball ranging from NCAA DI, DII, DII, along with NAIA and NJCAA colleges and universities. Hundreds of teams are brought in each year where over 2,500 games are played.
While the playing field offers plenty of diversity, it’s not NCAA Division I that brings the most competition.
“Most of the teams are from up north. The bulk of our games, almost half of our teams are Division III. We don’t have any Division III’s in Florida, so they're all from out of state. The regions where we tend to get the most people are the northeast and the midwest, that eastern and central time zone coming down and playing one another”, said Strange.
Teams from the northern states play a big role in the deep-rooted history of THE Spring Games, with northern teams heading to central Florida during the late winter months going back to the ’70s.
THE Spring Games were created as an outcropping of this idea, by 2x Olympic Gold winner and softball hall of famer Dot Richardson, who started the modern version of the competition in 2008.
While THE Spring Games offer a great playing environment in sunny Florida, it’s the competition that keeps teams coming back, according to Strange.
“They are real games. That’s one thing, that a lot of people will call it preseason, but it’s pre-conference games. These are regular-season games, they do count towards the teams’ records. Importantly for many teams, they count toward their postseason rankings, so the matchups are very important, “ said Strange.
With conference schedules holding teams to certain opponent matchups throughout their season, THE Spring Games provide top-tier competition that can set teams up for postseason play.
“I take it as a compliment to our staff and the facilities that we work with, that these top teams are willing to trust us with these very important early season matchups. They know and we know that at the end of the day if they don’t win their conference, THE Spring Games may very well be the event that determines whether they get a postseason regional bid. That’s a heavy weight on our shoulders, we take that very seriously and I think they know we do.”
While the event has returned to normal, the pandemic has served its challenges, with some of the biggest issues in scheduling and travel.
“Colleges and universities continue to wrestle with travel restrictions and policies related to the Coronavirus and its variants,” said Strange. “We’ve noticed a lot of changes this year, and some of these have been made at the last minute, which presents a scheduling challenge. The two big ones I’ve seen are the teams are [taking the bus] instead of flying. I’ve seen about a 600% bump in buses this year.
“The other thing that we’ve seen, which is highly unusual, is universities over winter break changed their spring break dates. They’re not saying you can't go to Florida, they're just saying your spring break is a different week. I don’t remember ever dealing with that before.”
Another new challenge the pandemic has presented has been abrupt changes in flights.
“That one is rare,” said Strange, “but we’ve had about 4 or 5 of those where their flight was just canceled and they have to get a different flight month in advance without given notice.”
While there are bound to be changes along the way, Strange said there will be certain aspects that are guaranteed for those involved in this year's games.
“At the end of the day, the teams know when they're coming, when they’re going, they know what teams they’ve asked to play, they know they’re going to get sunshine, they know they’re going to have a great experience. We can deal with some of the details later, giving these administrations just a little more time to plan and get organized and not have pressures,” said Strange.
There will always be challenges with putting on an event the size of THE Spring Games, but according to Strange, there have been pivotal values that have always remained the same.
“We go back pretty far and the game has evolved and it’s changed but one thing that’s remained consistent over the last 50 years has been that these women love to play together. They love to enjoy the sunshine. They continue to come back to Florida and continue to play. I’m excited to see what the future holds for the sport itself, but I do think that THE Spring Games, with as many participants as we have, is a stepping stone to what the next level might be and I think we can serve as a support for the future of professional softball, actually.”
If there’s one thing to look forward to at THE Spring Games, it’s the competition across all levels. While multiple levels of college softball will be in action, Strange says to not overlook a squad based on their division level.
“I was a little snobby about the fact I was watching D2s and D3s, until I actually watched the D2s and D3s,” said Strange. “I remember being on the mezzanine at the legends way back in 2014 and at the same time, I saw a triple-play on one field, a double-play on another, and a home run on a third. That’s pretty exciting. That’s exciting softball. It didn't matter that it was Division II or Division III, it was just exciting softball.”
THE Spring Games play not only a huge role in the softball universe in the future of female athletics overall.
“I’m going to steal a quote and I’m going to give credit to the person who said it. Carol Hutchins said this to me probably seven years ago. She said, ‘This is an evolution and we are not going away.’ I think about that all the time, especially with an event like this.”
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