By Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER – One of the big head-scratchers in modern sport is the struggle softball has when it comes to securing a spot on the Olympic event schedule. While the sport will take place in the upcoming Tokyo Games, there’s nothing assured about its return anytime soon.
In its own way, Triple Crown’s inaugural International Challenge certainly displayed the staying power of the idea of competing for one’s homeland, with 23 teams taking part in three days of passionate action at the Christopher Fields complex. Sunday wrapped up with Team USA Blue just getting past Team South Korea in the gold medal game, with another nailbiter playing out in the bronze medal game as Puerto Rico beat Canada Red.
Above and beyond the scoreboard, however, was the sense of pride and meaning so many of the attendees drew from the occasion. Softball became a setting where new relationships and connections were made, where the desire to compete and win didn’t come at the expense of respecting the other team that was trying just as hard to succeed.
Manny Travieso, the heart and soul behind the International Challenge concept, took notice that the event seemed to generate a ripple-effect of emotion for coaches, players and parents.
“As a coach, I know there is a lot of talent in the US,” said Travieso, who was part of the coaching staff for the Puerto Rico Olympic team. “And there are just so many players who would never get the chance to play for their national team, so I said let’s figure this out. This event might be the only chance they have to get that experience.
“And then, there are those players who I wanted to get seen by their national teams. Seven days ago, there were seven girls who went to Israel and got dual citizenship so they could play in (a world championship at) Prague. We hadn’t played a game yet! When you put everything together between girls who have amazing talent and can’t play for a national team, and girls who deserve to be seen by international coaches … it can only elevate the sport.”
While it makes sense that players would dive into this moment, it was no less impressive to see parents and grandparents soaking it all in. One mother of a South Korea player was moved to tears; where her daughter was usually the only native of the country on the roster, now there were many more.
“I’ve never seen parents cry that way, but they were so proud, and I can only imagine what the future holds,” Travieso said.
And to that question, plans are already being discussed and debated for the 2022 International Challenge. One idea is to have a senior and junior division, as you had 14-year-olds all the way to 18’s in the mix this time.
“That would allow more players to participate. The Philippines had just one team, an amazing team, but they had enough for more,” Travieso said. “Once it got out on social media, coaches were seeing how this could grow. We first thought about 12 teams, we got to 23 and we didn’t really try that hard. You can feel the positivity, and I wonder if when they go back to their travel team, if they will be bored. This had yelling, and cowbells and maracas … we want to grow it smartly and continue to get international coaches to see the players and hopefully change the game.”