Championship games aren’t scheduled until Sunday at the 2018 Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks. That doesn’t mean players missed an early opportunity to showcase their skills in front of college coaches, though.
Monday afternoon through the evening, more than 1,000 14u All-Stars representing almost every team in this year’s Sparkler Juniors field took to Barnes Softball Complex in Loveland for one-of-a-kind All-Star Games. The unique event allowed these stellar athletes to take full advantage of a little warm-up before more competitive games later in the week and maybe more importantly, an opportunity to demonstrate their skill sets with a myriad of college coaches on hand.
“I’m just so thankful that I was afforded this opportunity,” said Madison Redinger of the California Yard Sharks. “These games were so much fun to play in, and I can’t imagine where else I would get this kind of experience.”
High-quality softball is not the only attention-drawing aspect for the droves of colleges that attend these all-star games year after year. Each individual team is led by two coaches representing different universities from almost every division, allowing even further hands-on interaction between coaches and players.
“If you’re a college softball coach at any level, you can’t miss these games,” said Howie Smith, who heads the program at Dodge City Community College. “A lot of the time, I get to see kids that I would not have even had a chance to look at.
“Located in Kansas, I rarely get the opportunity to get to know anyone from the West Coast or the East Coast. To be able to get a look at a kid from North Dakota or California or Arizona is an opportunity that I don’t take for granted.”
While these games feature some of the best athletes from each team, it’s not entirely on softball that players and coaches direct their focus.
“How you carry yourself on and off the field is one of the biggest things I learned today,” explained Addie Mettler of Firecrackers NorCal. “If you make a good play or a bad play or even if you’re just walking to your car, college coaches are always watching.”
“We’re always looking for a reason to cross a player off our list,” said Kasey Hunt, the assistant coach of Benedictine College. “Sometimes in these games, we pay more attention to how a player reacts after making a play than the play itself. We certainly like talent but we’re recruiting the personality of a player just as much.”
After six full innings of highlight-reel play and couple of newfound friendships, players and coaches sat down for a little debrief and time for questions from the young stars beginning their journey to the next level.
“These kids are four years away from making a major life decision,” said Smith. “Of course, we would all like to make a little pitch for our programs but at the core, I think we all want to help them answer as many questions as possible so the parents and kids can make the best decision for themselves.”
By the end of the night, both coaches and players leave with a little extra insight into one another. Coaches have a few more names circled, and players depart with fewer questions in their heads.
“It’s why we’re out here,” said Mettler. “I’m leaving tonight with a lot of my questions answered and knowledge that will help me going forward in this process.”