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The Wally Hall Tournament of Champions, already one of the biggest baseball and softball tournaments in the state, is expected to be bigger and stronger than ever before in its 30th year with an addition of a Triple Crown.
But with the loss of the funding from the Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission, due to Benton residents voting in favor of the plan to build a large-scale events center, the tournament needs sponsors.
"The (Benton) A&P was huge and we couldn't have made this event possible without them in the first place, from what they did with advertising and getting it off the ground," said Shane Pigue, an organizer and director of the tournament. "Without their support, because they are concentrating their money on the Benton Events Center, which I support big time anyway, we need a lot to replace them. Everett Buick GMC of Saline County is now the main sponsor of the tournament, but we are still looking for a number of sponsors to help us since we have lost the Benton A&P."
Since the tournament relocated to Saline County in 2008, it also has become an annual economic boost for local communities. He also said the proceeds benefit local charities, with more than a quarter of a million dollars raised for nonprofit organizations.
Pigue said the two main organizations that benefit from the tournament proceeds are the Christian Community Care Clinic and the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County, but also receiving support from the tournament are the Benton Youth Sports Association, Bryant Athletic Association, Jeff Mattingly Memorial Scholarship, Benton High School football and baseball team, Benton High School cheerleaders, and the Boys and Girls Club of Bryant.
Individuals and/or business that would like to become a sponsor or make a donation should call Pigue directly at 501-909-1605 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Obviously the charities are pumped about it and it is a really big date circled on their calendars," Pigue said. "The teams also come back every year, because we always try to make sure this is the best tournament possible, including prizes, and that is the best organized."
The Triple Crown will hold the first leg on March 16-18, the second leg on April 13-15, and the third leg on May 6-8. The Tournament of Champions will be Memorial Day weekend, May 25-27.
It isn't just the prizes, including a $5,000 sponsorship from Everett for one of the teams that competes in the Triple Crown â€” which will be announced during the Tournament of Champions â€” it is all the work that was put in to ensure Saline County is the premiere place to host the large-scale tournament. Pigue said the key players in the tournament's success are Tim Bennett, Mike Duke, Gar Lile, Jasen Kelly of the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County, Gary James of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce and numerous volunteers. And no one has forgotten the support of Benton A&P in previous years.
To explain how the process of bringing the tournament to Saline County began and A&P's involvement, Pigue said in Wally Hall's 25th year of the tournament, Hall decided to end it. The tournament previously was held in various Arkansas communities, including Conway, Jacksonville, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock ball fields. Pigue said the event also was held for the top softball teams in the state. He said there were just 12-16 teams in each tournament, and Wally Hall created a triple crown to try to determine who those top teams were.
"There would be anywhere between 70 to 100 teams competing and then they would take the top teams to play in the tournament of champions," Pigue said. "There was just so much work involved and (Hall) decided to stop it. He also stopped doing the Triple Crown a little before that and instead just invited the top teams in Arkansas."
Pigue was determined to make sure the tournament would continue. It was an event that he had also competed in for numerous years.
"I started playing in the tournament in 1990 and that's how I got to know Wally Hall so well," he said. "My team, Thomas Oil based out of Benton, had several players from Saline County and we won more than any other team. We had six first-place finishes."
He added, "When (Wally Hall) decided to end it, I talked him into bringing back the tournament, with the same name, and holding it in Saline County. Basically it is part of my life and I usually work on this year round."
Pigue also added youth baseball and fast-pitch softball teams to the tournament "making it the biggest ball tournament in the state."
"Mixing the kids and the adults together is pretty sharp to me," he said. "It's an awesome deal because the youth can just walk across the field after their game and watch the top baseball and softball players in the state and region hitting (the balls) 400 feet over the fence. Most of these kids also end up playing softball in the future, even the ones that go to college."
But first the ball fields in the county had to be "spruced up."
"When I first went to Wally Hall, our fields/facilities here weren't up to shape, but I talked to (Benton alderman) Brad Moore and we started working with the Benton A & P Commission," Pigue said. " I told Brad (Moore) 'this is what we are going to have to do to make this happen. We are going to have to update our fields.'"
That's exactly what happened. Renovation were made to the ball fields, particularly Bernard Holland Park, the main field of use. A new roadway also was paved from Airlane Drive, across the back portion of the old Saline County Airport, to Bernard Holland Park. Also, a new parking lot was paved.
"The A&P was huge. They made the repairs and gave us the things that we needed at the parks," Pigue said. "We totally renovated a few of the fields at Bernard Park, and the parking lot, and they built a new road, which there was no possibility of us having the tournament without that road. Those are some of things (A&P) have done throughout the years to show their support for us."
It took two years to get everything ready, but Pigue said the wait was worth it. In 2008, the tournament not only started back up, it set Saline County â€” which has a steeped history of success with baseball and softball â€” on the map for ball tournaments. The Wally Hall tournament will also continue to grow, as it has done tremendously in the past, Pigue said. In it's first year in Saline County, the tournament saw 157 youth and adult baseball and softball teams.
"That was the largest number of teams at tournament in the state then in 2008, but since then we grew to 268 teams last year. We are hoping to have around 300 teams this year," Pigue said. "Last year we also didn't use all the ball fields that we could have at Bishop Park (in Bryant), but we are hoping to fill those up this year. We are hoping all together we can bring more than 600 teams to Saline County during the Triple Crown and TOC. "
Other parks used in the tournament, in addition to Bernard Holland Park and Bishop Park, are the Benton and Bauxite high school ball fields, and all the fields at Tyndall Park in Benton. There is also a website, www.wallyhallstoc.com, that Pigue said teams can use to register and "see what other teams are coming and where they are coming from." He also said there is information about the rules of the tournament and there will be updates on teams in the tournament brackets."
"There used to be about 20 tournaments every weekend around the state that we have to compete against, but I think we are doing things that no other tournament is doing," Pigue said. "Most tournaments give you a small trophy and that's it, but (teams) know when they come here, they are getting something different. Because of that, unlike the first Memorial Day weekend when we started where we had several tournaments that we had to compete against, now there isn't but one or two other tournaments. There's nothing in Central Arkansas that tries to compete with us now."
Pigue admits that the first year of the tournament, he went "overboard" with all the prizes that were given. However, he said in the end it has all been worth it, as he hears from coaches on how well perceived the tournament is by the players.
"We wanted to make sure the teams would return back to the tournament in that first year, and we've heard a lot of coaches tell their kids they would return because it was the best tournament," Pigue said. "Just doing the little extra stuff is what the coaches and the kids and everybody appreciates. Like every team that wins the tournament of champions get a personalized hat. You see all those kids wearing those hats around and we also give the biggest trophies. We probably give more for second place than most tournaments give for first place. And that's what keeps them coming back."
He added, "We want to give every team in the region an opportunity to play in this tournament. But for us to do that we have to use every field in Saline County. "We are working with a lot of different organizations to make it happen, but ... it's a pretty awesome deal when it comes together."
For more information and/or to register, visit www.wallyhallstoc.com. Individuals and/or business that would like to become a sponsor, or make a donation, call Shane Pigue at 501-909-1605 or email email@example.com.