LEESBURG — There were more hoodies and jackets than shorts and T-shirts, and coffee and hot chocolate were in bigger demand than any beverage with ice on Thursday morning at the Sleepy Hollow Recreation Complex.
The wind cut through the bleachers around the six softball fields being used for the annual event known as The Spring Games taking place at Leesburg’s Sleepy Hollow. Games are also being played at Clermont’s Legends Way and Hancock Park, and Minneola’s Athletic Complex.
But despite the frigid conditions, especially for the 8 a.m. games Thursday morning when the temperature barely topped the 40-degree mark, there wasn’t much grumbling going on.
For the teams taking part in The Spring Games, the cold weather was nothing new, even if it was what they were hoping to escape when they made the trip south.
“I’ll take 55 and sunshine over 35 and snow,” said Bethel University coach Penny Foote, who brought her team down to Florida from St. Paul, Minnesota. “We don’t get to practice much outside so we truly feel this is spring training for us.”
The Spring Games is a massive college softball event that started in Lake County on Feb. 24 and runs through March 31. Games at Sleepy Hollow run through Saturday with all games after that taking place at either Legends Way or Hancock Park.
The Spring Games were founded in 2008 by U.S. Olympian Dr. Dot Richardson, who organized the nonprofit PFX Athletics that takes on the huge task of organizing and running the games.
Considering more than 1,600 games will be played in the event this year, it’s no small feat. At the Sleepy Hollow complex alone, a total of 36 games were played on Thursday.
“We started in 2008 with 67 schools and last year we had 363 teams,” said PFX Athletics Vice President Bob Borak. “The teams average 10 games each over seven days. I believe it is the largest collegiate event in the world. Our big focus is on customer service.”
This year’s event features teams from 30 states including from as far away as Oregon and Washington. Different teams cycle through the area throughout The Spring Games, getting a chance to play at a time when their home fields are often covered in snow.
“We’ve been coming down for years and it’s really grown a lot,” said Amherst (Massachusetts) College coach Jessica Johnson. “This is a third of our schedule. Back home we just got a foot and a half of snow and I don’t know what it will be like when we get home.”
Many of the teams rent houses or condos and use the week in Florida to bond while also getting in their first games of the season.
“We’re renting three houses in Orange Tree in Clermont and that really helps with the team dynamic,” Johnson said. “If we were staying at a hotel it would just be a couple of players to a room. But now we have eight or nine together in a house.”
For some players, there has even been time for family. Several groups of parents and grandparents accompanied the teams south, also looking for a little warmth during their stay in Central Florida.
Teams usually play what amounts to a double-header, although the opponents change for each game. That leaves much of the day free either before or after games.
“For us it’s been vacation after we get back to the hotel every afternoon,” said Joelene Geysen, whose daughter, Kamryn, is a catcher for Western Connecticut State. “We’ve been enjoying the pool and the weather. It’s a little cool today, but where we come from we’re used to that.”
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