ASA softball, once a huge part of the summer recreation scene in Payson, is returning with a bang.
It arrives in the form of the ASA Junior Olympic Girls Fast Pitch “B” State Championship tournament that is expected to bring 2,000 to 3,000 players, their parents, fans and game officials to Payson packing restaurants, stores, shops and hotels.
The state tournament will be played July 8, 9 and 10 on five Rumsey Park fields and the Lady Longhorn diamond on the Payson High campus.
Also returning with the ASA tournament is former Town of Payson recreation coordinator Don Fishel, who in the 1980s unofficially took over the reins of the town softball program from founder Ted Pettet and nurtured it several years before leaving Payson for Winslow, then Yuma and finally Prescott.
Fishel is a Payson native and says his goal is to someday return to live in the town.
He is currently a recreation director in the Mile High City and the ASA state commissioner.
Fishel and JO Tournament Director Rick Hormann will be in Payson all three days of the tournament helping town officials host what will be the largest tournament held locally since the demise of Rim Country softball in the 1990s.
While hosting the tournament is a huge economic boon for Payson, it has created some headaches for Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis.
“We are sold out of hotel rooms from Strawberry to Tonto Basin and we are now looking for places to rent where players and their families can stay,” he said. “We also need volunteers to help out because this is going to be huge.”
It’s a given there are some challenges in hosting such a large tournament, but Davis is obviously as tickled as a tick on a hound that he and former recreation coordinator Trevor LaHaye were able to sell Payson as a playing site.
“It is going to showcase our community and we know from responses that a large percentage of those coming have never been to Payson,” Davis said. “This is the culmination of about eight months of hard work to bring softball back to Payson.
“We are excited to have ASA in our community and to bring in an event such as a state tournament.”
Fishel says he has little doubt that Payson can in the future return to the lofty status the town once held in state softball circles.
“Payson is located in the middle of the state — a good location and the town has sufficient playing fields for this number (about 50) of teams,” he said. “Under Ted Pettet Sr., Payson had it going (as a tournament site) — that could happen again.”
Prescott has long been considered the “Softball Capital of Arizona” but under the leadership of Pettet and his son, Teddy, Payson was once second only to Prescott as a tournament site.
Fishel’s best hope is that Payson soon adopts an ASA program for its youth.
“I’m a big Little League guy, but it plays only two to three months,” he said. “In ASA, there is the opportunity to play year-round.”
Payson is one of the towns, along with Show Low and some in Southern Arizona, that he’d like to see host a year-round ASA program for both adults and children.
The number of teams that have indicated they will play in the Payson-hosted tournament, 47 at press time, came as a mild surprise to Davis, who said, “When we started this, we hoped for 30.”
Fishel believes the field could be even larger, “If Payson had more fields, we probably could have had 60 teams.”
The teams come from around Arizona including the Valley area, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff, Bullhead City, Yuma, Coolidge, Mammoth and Needles, Calif.
“We allow Needles to play in Arizona ASA because they are so close,” said Fishel.
Although Payson is hosting, the town does not have a team entered in the state championships.
Many of the tournament teams represent small towns around the state, as is usually the case in Class B play.
“In Class A, the teams are usually from the city,” said Fishel
For the tournament, five age group state champions will be decided including 10-years-and-under or 10U also 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U.
The 14U division is one of the most popular age groups, with nine teams indicating they will play.
“You’ll be able to tell there will be a lot of kids in town,” Fishel said
In the tournament format, every team is guaranteed at least three games, with play beginning on Friday about 3 p.m. and continuing until 10 p.m.
Play resumes Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and wraps up at 10 p.m.
Sunday’s hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The winners of the Payson tournament are eligible to advance to the B National Championships, which will begin Aug. 3 in Prescott.
Davis is asking that anyone with rooms or homes to rent out to visitors or those who would like to volunteer to assist with the tournament call him at (928) 474-5242, ext. 249.