SPARTA, NJ - As the classic Alice Cooper song goes, "Schools Out for Summer" states clearly the thought process for most school aged kids this time of year. However, the warm weather in mid-June signifies it was again time for the annual Sparta Schools Out Softball Tournament.
More than 60 teams from 8U to 16U came to Sparta to play for the title in their individual age groups and kick-off their summer. The annual tournament has a history of drawing competitive teams from New Jersey and New York. This year was no different with games running from Friday through early Sunday evening at six different field locations across town.
“With the help of coaches, parents, board members and the players, 2017 was one of the best tournaments ever and carried with it a message of something more than softball,” Sparta Softball president Lori Rispoli said.
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This year the tournament was about more than winning a trophy. The tournament was also an opportunity to raise funds for a local child battling cancer and raise awareness of the disease.
According to the Sparta Diamonds, Hayden Marshall is a feisty and active seven-year-old, battling a serious type of cancer and cousin of Julia Lengen, a member of the 12A Sparta Diamonds. He loves to play hockey but is a fan of all sports and not being able to compete was something that he missed. This year, the Sparta Schools Out Tournament decided to make his battle their battle and bring a smile to his face.
Marshall threw out the first pitch on Saturday to kick-off the games. Some teams wrote his name on their arms in his honor. Additionally, players could participate in a "Home Run for Hayden" fundraiser. For every home run, the player would sign their name on a dedication sign and the Sparta Softball program would make a donation in their name to Hayden's family to help offset his treatment and costs during his battle against cancer.
"Hayden is a fighter and things look promising for him and this weekend showed he has a bunch of fans willing to go to bat for him,” Rispoli said.
Fans and players were treated to intense and exciting games across all age groups. The Sparta Diamonds teams were well represented and played sparkling softball going deep into Championship play on Sunday according to Joe Jacobs, head of Diamonds’ travel program.
- 10A Sparta Diamonds built on their strong start to the season, winning the tournament and adding to their trophy collection.
- 14A Diamonds lost for only the second time this year, dropping a close one in the Championship game.
- 8U Diamonds and the Sparta Gems played great all tournament long and showed that the future looks bright for Diamonds Softball.
- 12A Diamonds lost in the semifinals to the eventual winner in their age group, and continue to play stellar softball.
- 10B and 12B Sparta Diamonds played their hearts out losing tough games on Sunday, but showed flashes of what is to come as they gain experience.
- 16U Diamonds left it all on the field all weekend and just ran out of gas on Sunday.
All Sparta Softball teams continue the 2017 season with a packed schedule over the next few weeks. Sparta teams will be traveling down to the Edison Firecracker Softball Tournament early in July. The 10A and 12A Sparta Diamonds look to stay as hot as the summer temperatures and make a deep run during the States/Regional tournament pool play.
The 14U Black Diamonds compete for seeding at a few USSSA tournaments as they prepare for their trip to the World Series in July.
"The girls look forward to playing in these bigger tournaments, as they get a chance to see how the stack up against the top teams from the area. Sparta Softball has had a great year on and off the field and we could not be prouder of our players and coaches,” Jacobs said.
“Sparta Softball would like to thank our sponsors, parents, players and coaches for all the hard work that has been put in to make the 2017 season special for everyone involved, Diamonds’ organizer Jason Villar said. For more information please go to www.leaguelineup.com/spartasoftball.