Columbus softball fans and parents hauled their coolers filled with Gatorade and water to softball parks across Columbus as hot dogs and hamburgers were hitting the grills for the ongoing game action on Thursday.

The USSSA Fast Pitch National Championships started its first wave of games Thursday with five of the six venues being in Columbus. Each team of the 166 participating teams played two pool play games which determines their seeding in the actual tournament bracket. This is the tournament’s 10th year in Columbus and each year softball fanatics are able to watch as many games as they can handle for four consecutive days. Game results are also being posted on the tournament’s website for those who are unable to physically attend the games.

The USSSA Fast Pitch National Championships is one of the biggest softball tournaments to take place in Columbus each year and many of the local youth softball players look forward to playing every summer. Twelve year-old pitcher Madison Walls is playing in her second national tournament and said she always enjoys playing in the tournament with her Red Alert team. Madison pitches for the Red Alert 04 12-and-under team that placed second in the state tournament earlier this summer. Red Alert won both their pool play games.

“(Playing in the national tournament) is really fun,” Madison said. “Because you get to meet new teams that you never played before and you get to face teams that you’ve not seen before.”

The sun beaming down on fans and players did not stop parents from watching their daughters play their hearts out. Columbus resident Jennifer Rutherford found a nice spot in the shade right next to the concessions building as did many other parents. Her daughter Bayleigh Rutherford has been playing softball since she was 5 years-old but is in her first season playing left field for the Red Alert 12-and-under team. Jennifer said she loves the fact that Bayleigh is getting a chance to play in the national tournament against top-notch talent.

“It’s fun, it’s very well organized and very well put together,” Jennifer Rutherford said. “Everybody’s great, the parents are great and coaches are great. It definitely lets the players see what’s out there. You get to see what the competition is and makes them want to do better. They get to meet friends from all over and you definitely can’t beat that.”

There are eight Columbus based teams playing in national tournament and most of them participated in the state competition as well. Tournament director Tim Foster mentioned before the tournament started how Columbus is a great location for the tournament because of the amount of baseball parks it offers, he said. Red Alert 04 12U coach Jerry Smith said it’s huge for the overall community not just for the economical aspect of the local businesses, but for the excitement and activity it brings the players and parents.

There will be softball action all weekend at Ceraland, Clifty Park, Dunn Stadium, Lincoln Park and Southside Elementary School for the Columbus community to witness its youth competing at all ages. Games are also being played in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Sports Complex.

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.