Like most responsible parents of young athletes, my husband and I try not to put too much emphasis on winning.
When it comes to our 14-year-old daughter and softball, we promote diligence at practice, concentration during games and good sportsmanship at all times.
This weekend, we have abandoned our laissez-faire attitude about winning. Let me explain.
When she was 10 and joined a travel team, we were introduced to the concept that softball teams play year-round in Indiana — as does almost every other sport. So, we're over the fact that it's the dead of winter, which has been one of the worst on record, and she's in a fast-pitch softball tournament this weekend at the Plex South in Fort Wayne.
We aren't crazy about this, but we accept it.
Here is what we can't fathom: This weekend's tournament, Fracas at the Fort, has games scheduled around the clock. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday until around 4 p.m. Sunday, there are games scheduled every single hour on two diamonds. Correction, one diamond will stand empty for one hour.
Call me crazy, but as someone who enjoys a good night's sleep, I am appalled to see games scheduled at 3:45 a.m. on a Saturday. I'm having trouble believing it's true.
Our one ray of hope: If her team wins its first game at 7 p.m. Friday, she will not need to play in the middle of the night. If it loses, she plays at 3:45 a.m. Saturday — which is really Friday night, in my mind. At least, I'm pretty sure that's how it works.
The entire, endless string of games, and who wins and plays whom next, is on a massive Excel spreadsheet. Each team gets into a “bracket,” based on whether it wins or loses, and that determines what time it plays next. I will need to get my friend's husband, a nuclear physicist, to interpret it.
Make no bones about it. My husband and I want her to win that first game. It isn't overstating it to say that we are living for a win. A full night's sleep Friday night is our immediate goal.
Even if she wins, her team could still end up playing in the wee hours Sunday morning. But we'll cross that bracket when we come to it.
In trying to comprehend the insanity of this tournament, I spoke with Nick Potter who manages both the Plex South and the Plex North.
“The National Softball Association (NSA) runs the event,” Potter says. “We just host it.”
This tournament has been 24-hours straight for a number of years, and he keeps the place fully staffed every hour. Teams enter from all over. The farthest team this year is from Canada.
They stay at hotels to sleep, but a team could play every few hours all night long. Because I have seen parents asleep in cars at summer tournaments, I assumed people might be snoozing in sleeping bags inside the Plex South, which has about 45,000 square feet of playing space.
“I've never seen anyone sleeping,” Potter says. “For the most part, we thought people would be tired. That isn't true. It's just as busy at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. as 5 p.m. They buy concessions and everything. I think people just fight through it and get the games in.”
The games are free and open to the public, but the tournament doesn't normally attract many fans.
For those who appreciate amateur sports, the players generate excitement, not only by their skills, but by how much heart and courage they show. The true champions may get down, but they are never out until that last call is made.
Still determined to understand the inner workings of Fracas at the Fort, I contacted Shirley Minnick, Indiana director of NSA.
“I've had a tournament in Fort Wayne for eight years, and we had eight teams the first year," Minnick said. "This year, 31 teams are coming … . I pared it down from 45 teams. This is the only way I can run it with this many teams.
“What everyone is trying to do is get their 14-, 16-, and 18-year-olds in games to give their girls that much more experience for high school,” Minnick says.
The winners at this weekend's tournament also gain points toward entering World Series tournaments held the last week of July in various areas of the country. By racking up enough wins in smaller tournaments, teams qualify to go to the World Series, which lasts a week and games don't run 24 hours straight.
As we head to the Plex South this weekend, with all due respect to renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice, who said, “It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game,” I beg to differ. At Fracas at the Fort, our entire family is in agreement: We. Want. To. Win!