Families come to city from all over the state

Published 7:03 pm Saturday, July 14, 2018

Huddled in their lawn chairs under tents looking for some shade and surrounded by coolers, bags of snacks and water bottles, hundreds of people from throughout the state of Mississippi spent a recent Saturday at Bazinsky Fields because during the summer that is what softball families do.

Not even temperatures in the 90s and a heat index pushing 102 degrees could deter them. The first games started in the early morning, and the final out wasn’t recorded until after dark as teams from across the state competed in the Vicksburg All-Star tournament.

Long lines snaked from the concession stands as families stocked up on food and drinks, but with each player bringing along her parents and siblings, a day of softball proved to be a big moneymaker for the Vicksburg businesses near the fields.

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“We have parents and baseball and softball players and they definitely come in in droves and dine with us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It brings a lot,” Nick Jones, who owns and operates the Vicksburg Chick-fil-A, said. “If we didn’t know it was happening, we make adjustments when we find out to make sure we can handle the impact. I bring some extra help in to be able to support it.”

The summer months see softball families hit the road for tournaments every weekend between the travel ball and all-star schedules.

Tiffany Best, who was in Vicksburg along with her daughter’s team from Pisgah, said they had traveled every weekend since the end of May spending money on gas, food and the occasional hotel along the way.

“You have to think about gas money. Depending on how far away it is we have stayed in a hotel,” Best said. “It just depends on how far it is. Sometimes we play for half a day so it is not that bad, but if they keep winning and they play all day, then concession stands, taking breaks and going and eating at restaurants.”

The All-Star tournament was the first road trip for Scott Matthews and his daughter’s team from Greenwood, but he quickly realized how fast the expenses pile up.

“About $20 a person easy,” Matthews said of what he expected to spend. “There are 10 on the team and then the parents, brothers and sisters and whoever.”

He said much of that money would be spent on food and water as they battled the searing heat.

Brandi Altman, who traveled to Vicksburg from Laurel, said while her family just came for the day, many of the families with them spent money staying overnight in a Vicksburg hotel along with the money they’ll spend on food, drinks and gas.

“It is a big commitment, but then we are out here having family time with the girls and just being involved in what they love,” Altman said. “We are a family of five and it is $24 to get in and I spent $70 at the grocery store.”

The impact on youth sports is already significant with the tournaments hosted at Bazinsky throughout the summer. That impact is expected to see a significant increase early next year when Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi is scheduled to open.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. has called the park a “game changer” because of the expected economic impact. Based on what they see during a normal Saturday tournament, Jones and Walter Davis, the general manager at Whataburger, say they expect to see a big boon from it.

“There is absolutely a big impact on our business. We have a lot more traffic coming into the area and we see transactions increase,” Davis said of softball tournaments.

“We are looking forward to a great impact being that this area is really focused on sports and events like that. It grows our area so we looking for a big impact.”

Jones said he expects the sports complex’s benefit to his business to be “significant.”

“It is going to bring families for a whole weekend here,” Jones said. “I think the year-round, multiple sport opportunities mixed with what we can offer here in Vicksburg sets us up for a prime opportunity. It is a significant impact each time there is a tournament in town.”

Even with the cost food and gas going up, don’t expect the parents to stop traveling. Cathie Carden from Florence said they travel every weekend during the summer, but even though she will drop upwards of $100 a day on food and gas she has no plans to stop, “Because my daughter loves softball. As long as she is with it, we are with it.”