H.S. Softball Coaches Sound Off on Gulf Shores Controversy

By: Kim Allen Email
By: Kim Allen Email

It sparked debate across the state. High School softball teams played past four in the morning at the South Regional Tournament in Gulf Shores, then had to return to the field just hours later to play again.

The AHSAA chose to accelerate the schedule of games in an effort to avoid delays due to rain on Saturday. The resulting slate of games forced several teams in the 2A bracket to play deep into the night, before returning at 7 a.m. for 8 a.m. games.

The decision drew heated responses coaches and fans of the affected teams. AHSAA Communications Director Ron Ingram spoke to www.al.com about the decision on Monday night, saying "The tournament was revised after weather alerts on Friday and games were started later than usual with the coaches' understanding and cooperation."

However, several coaches involved in the tournament say they were never consulted before the schedule change was made.

"We were eating lunch in Gulf Shores, and we found out about it," Houston Academy Head Coach Phillip Mitchell said. "Coach Cox from Wicksburg called me, driving up, and said he had heard they had moved all of our games up. We called Wanda Gilland about it, and she said, yes, our games had been moved up. Nobody bothered to call us and let us know. Nobody consulted us at all."

Ariton's Jerry Goodson echoed Mitchell's account, telling WTVY, "The decision was not voted on by any of the coaches that I know of. We had a 3:30 start and we were pulling into the complex at 1:45. I was called by coach bowers from Zion Chapel, the team we were to play and he said he had heard we were going to start at 2:00 pm. It was 1:45 and we hadn't heard a from anyone else and I had been up there earlier in the day."

The uproar was caused by a perfect storm of events, beginning with projections of stormy weather in Gulf Shores. A full schedule of games, and a 14-inning marathon to end the night between Elba and Gulf Shores forced those teams to leave for a brief rest, before returning for early start times on Saturday morning.

Ingram spoke to these circumstances with www. al.com, saying "It was unfortunate and not something we would have allowed if we had known it would go that long. Plans in the future are as always, never start a game at 11:30 p.m.

"Games were originally scheduled with the last game at 8 p.m. However, as in most softball tournaments, the games went longer on some fields and with the revision of adding later games due to the inclement weather that was expected, the 15-inning game skewed the finish."

While circumstances conspired to force a strange finish to Friday's action, coaches believe the disjointed nature of the tournament could've been avoided.

"Would've seemed to made sense to me to move 2A over to Orange Beach, and maybe one of the others, and had two of the six divisions playing over there, and four playing on six fields," Headland Head Coach Scott Parker said. "That's one thing that could've happened."

Houston Academy Head Coach Phillip Mitchell watched his team finish near 3 a.m. on Friday, before returning to the field just hours later to play again. He believes tournament officials should've waited longer before making a hasty decision based on projected weather reports.

"I think they jumped the gun just a little bit on the situation," Mitchell said. "I think around 11 o'clock, they probably should've cut the games off and said let's come back and start these games tomorrow morning, and then go from there. "

While coaches dispute their inclusion in the decision making process, several told WTVY they wouldn't have been thrilled with returning to Gulf Shores on Monday to resume play, if weather had stopped play. They would've preferred to play on Sunday, in order to save money on hotel rooms and travel to and from the tournament site.

The AHSAA has a rule prohibiting high school teams from playing on Sunday. Ingram told www.al.com, the AHSAA will look for ways to avoid a situation like this in the future.

"We always evaluate our events each year and if we can find a way to make it better, then that is the course of action we will take," Ingram said.

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