After 29 years the Clinch River Classic has come to an end — at least for now.
The softball tournament usually held the first weekend in June in Clinton was cancelled this year due to lack of participation.
According to Jason Brown of the Clinton Parks and Recreation Department, only four men’s teams and five women’s teams registered prior to the deadline.
“In the last few years the number of teams in the tournament has been going downhill. Years ago, we had a waiting list. If we had 16 teams, we had few more trying to get in. Back in the day we would take 24 men’s teams. It’s just dwindled over the years,” he said.
Brown said they do things a little different from other tournaments.
“We do a deadline for people to turn in their entry and their money. It’s a lot different from the tournaments that are around here. They say they’re coming to play and pay on arrival. We don’t do that. We do a deadline. It’s usually an invitation only. We had maybe 15 men’s teams and 10 or 12 women’s teams that have played in the past. The last few years it’s been a struggle to get eight teams for women and maybe 12 for men. It’s hard to get people to turn in money and entry form when they’re used to turning it in the day of,” he said.
Brown said the reason for the deadline is that brought in umpires from out of town and they had to get hotel rooms for the weekend and the tournament brackets needed to be drawn and planned for the weekend without getting too late on Friday and Saturday night without interfering with church on Sunday.
He added that workers — such as people to run the concession stand — had to be scheduled.
Another reason for the decline is likely because the younger generation is not playing softball in the same numbers.
Brown said the tournament and the city league follow ASA guidelines and the organization has a little more stringent rules on bats.
“Guys have gripped and complained for the last few years to change it to something else. We do ASA for our leagues. Changing has not really been an option,” he said.
“Another problem we’ve got is that we have two fields compared to other tournaments where they have four or more. We’re kind of limited on fields. We’ve stayed with ASA for our leagues and for our tournament. To me, if you choose not to play if it’s ASA sanctioned or not, I’m not sure you’re looking at it the right way. We supply the softballs and everything else. All a team has to do is show up and play,” Brown said.
He said even the city league has held at five teams for the past several years.
“Softball is not something that’s just busting at the seams with teams. I played for years and I looked so forward to the Clinch River Classic. I hate it so bad that we’re not playing it because the people before me who started it — Roger Houck and Steve Queener — and there I am, the one going to cancel things. It’s not anything I did. It’s just not the same anymore,” Brown said.
He said he has friends with parks and recreation departments in Maryville and Johnson City and both have told him participation in softball tournaments have declined there as well.
“It isn’t what it used to be. Sponsors aren’t out there and younger kids haven’t picked it [the sport] up,” Brown said.
He said one of the options he is looking at for the Clinch River Classic is to make it a wooden bat tournament.
“There shouldn’t be an issue with bats. People claim bats are illegal or someone has juiced one up or shaved it or whatever it might be. Seiverville does a wooden bat tournament where they supply the bats. Some of the people I’ve talked to who have played in our tournament over the years say it would be cool to do that here,” Brown said.
“You know when you end something after 29 years you also might create something that will be here for years to come,” he said.