by Michael Roley
AURORA, Colo. - In its own way, Sunday morning at Aurora Sports Park offered a glimpse into what will be taking place throughout the week at the Colorado Sparkler/Fireworks tournaments throughout several different Colorado cities.
There were no official games played, but there was warm summer weather, spectators enthusiastically looking on with their coffee cups nearby, and most of all, hundreds of talented players showing off their ability in front of tons of college coaches.
Players from various teams and parts of the country gathered on several fields for a four-hour session with the opportunity play in front of dozens of college coaches, ranging from the Division I level to NAIA programs. Some of the Division I programs present were Illinois, Clemson, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Oregon State, and 2019 Women’s College World Series participants Florida and Oklahoma State.
“I was definitely surprised because the camps I’ve been to before they usually don’t have this many coaches,” said Abbey Jackson of the Finch’s Aces program based out of Flemington, New Jersey. “But it made it a better opportunity.”
The sheer number of coaches was impressive. But in addition to their presence, they were also jumping into the moment on the field, and having a good time doing so.
“It’s unique in the sense that you have so many coaches and they’re working together,” Oregon State assistant Eric Lebya said. “For instance, this camp here you have several big schools working together, which is really neat to see. I think it’s just really well-organized and well-run. Everything has been flowing nicely and that’s great to see.”
The camp was essentially divided into two different parts. The first two hours allowed for direct instruction from the coaches. Players took live batting practice with the coaches tossing the pitches and were able to receive immediate feedback on the mechanics of their swing. The second half allowed players, who were divided up by age groups, to play live scrimmages in front of the coaches while they continued to offer pointers.
“They’re getting the same instruction that all these coaches are instructing their athletes,” Lebya said. “That’s a bonus for these kids to get that top-notch instruction.”
In addition to the quality of insight, the environment also allowed players the ability to ask questions of the coaches. In other settings, this could be an intimidating task. But the interactive nature of Sunday’s event helped the players create dialogues with coaches in a productive way, one that might even seem counterintuitive to an ordinary recruiting event.
“The biggest thing I learned was just to go up to a coach whenever you can and ask questions,” said Addison Nance of the Firecrackers DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth). “They’ll reply back, they’re not rude or anything and they’ll have a conversation with you.”
From a recruiting standpoint, the camp offered a level of convenience to the coaches. Players were mostly arranged by different age group and even different positions. Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith said this makes things smoother in looking to fill needs in their recruiting classes.
The huge national draw of the Colorado 4th of July event is a major recruiting boost, as well. It showcases players from every corner of the country and allows coaches to see players outside of a regional context.
“This is the largest recruiting/showcase event in the country during the summertime. You get to see kids from all over rather than just regionally. That’s why a lot of coaches find themselves here for a full week to get their most bang for their buck coming out here and watching the talented individuals here,” said Smith, who will be one of those coaches here all week until Saturday watching games.
Perhaps Jackson of the Aces summed things up well for many players when asked what motivated her to arrive promptly at 8 a.m. for Sunday’s camp. And her response could also be applied appropriately to the week of games ahead.
“I just really love softball,” she said. "I would love to play at a higher level and I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to come out and show what I can do.”
While it’s never easy to pause and catch your breath during the Triple Crown Colorado 4th of July fastpitch event (taking over the state’s Front Range from June 30-July 7 this year), there is a bit of history to note before gearing up and putting on the eye black.
The Fireworks part of the Sparkler/Fireworks/Sparkler Juniors cluster of tournaments hits its 50th anniversary this year. Triple Crown acquired the Fireworks tournament in 2009, but the event played a major role in the development of fastpitch for the company, as it was part of the three-event series in 1992 that soon announced Triple Crown as a major player in youth fastpitch.
There’s no better example when it comes to producing a defining event in the sport, with the level of competition providing the excitement while innumerable college coaches, stretching coast-to-coast and from JUCO/NAIA to D-I, work the complexes to scout for their future rosters.
“The Fireworks is the oldest running (youth fastpitch) event in the United States that we know of. Since we became involved in it in 2009, it has continued to excite and thrill both club teams and colleges with its competitive aspects to college recruiting,” said David King, Triple Crown founder. “It is just great softball with great players and teams, and a whole lot of them. I see it as a true smorgasbord of opportunities for anyone in the softball world.”
Expansion of the event was hardly inevitable, however, as Triple Crown staff spent a lot of time in the laboratory, if you will, cooking up tweaks and spins that helped center the Fireworks, and the 4th of July event as a whole, on the calendar of most every travel team.
“The Fireworks remain a staple for any competitive travel team to get their players seen during a national tournament setting, one that rivals the National Championships around the country,” said Fireworks event director Alyson Carter. “It has grown from a normal tournament of 50 teams to encompassing 252 teams between our Colorado 4th of July Power Pools and supplemental Power Pools, along with the traditional 16u/18u Fireworks Open divisions.
“We now have over 1,000 individuals participating in College Camp Sunday events, and another 1,000-plus individuals in our All-Star games between the events giving everyone more opportunities to play softball at the collegiate level.”
Taken together, the 2019 Colorado 4th of July event will draw close to 900 teams. College Camp Sunday (June 30) and Elite College Camp Monday (July 1) will put athletes shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the nation’s most respected college programs. The Sparkler Juniors gets an early lift from player parties in Colorado Springs (12u) and Loveland (14u) on Monday.
All roads lead to Christopher Complex in Westminster on Wednesday and Aurora Sports Park on Thursday, with are both Festival Nights that are packed with vendors, games and entertainment. FloSoftball will stream wall-to-wall coverage of the Sparkler and Fireworks, with BallerTV on the case for Sparkler Juniors. Championship Day is Sunday, July 7.
Important news and links, including schedules and streaming information, can be found at Tournament Central >> HERE
While quality competition and the presence of hundreds of college coaches has helped make Triple Crown’s 4th of July event an eye-popping success, there’s no doubt getting to hang out in Colorado is a huge part of the appeal.
Typically, the sun will shine brightly during the day, and the evenings will cool off nicely – it won’t be hard to jump in the van and go explore the many amusements of Denver and the rest of the Front Range. We suggest you ask other teams what they’ve done when looking for a breather from the softball field, but we’ve got a quick list here that can shed some light.
WHITE WATER RAFTING – After a remarkable winter in terms of snowpack and moisture, the rivers of Colorado are percolating with a purpose in 2019. Inside of a two-hour drive from Denver, you can find multiple companies who will outfit you for a wet and wild trip through the rapids. Feel the thrill of careening trip downwater, and take home a photo of your team facing the spray.
ELITCH GARDENS AMUSEMENT PARK – (from the website) Located in the heart of Denver and celebrating 129 years of fun, Elitch Gardens is Colorado’s only world-class combination theme and water park. From thrilling roller coasters to pint-sized adventures, a splashin' water park and tons of special events, there's thrills for all.
GARDEN OF THE GODS/MANITOU SPRINGS – For teams staying and playing around south Denver and Colorado Springs, this is the perfect daytrip. There’s no charge to soak in the beauty of these treasures, jagged red-rock sandstone features reaching to the sky. The old mining town of Manitou Springs is about five miles west, a great place to shop and grab a bite while checking out the funky architecture of the town.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK – Just outside nearby Estes Park and packed to the gills on the weekend, this is a spellbinding setting for your weekday away from the fields. The always impressive Trail Ridge Road is still closed because of heavy winter snow, but any time spent touring the park or grabbing a hike will be long remembered.
DINOSAUR RIDGE/RED ROCKS – Both locations near Morrison; Dinosaur Ridge features famous Jurassic dinosaur bones, such as Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus, discovered in 1877, and Cretaceous dinosaur footprints. A guidebook is available for use; guided tours can be arranged. Red Rocks is the famous outdoor amphitheatre; dig into Red Rocks’ human and geological history at the Visitor Center, which has educational displays, a short documentary and a Performer's Hall of Fame.