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.”