Tough times trickle down to Triple Crown |

Tough times trickle down to Triple Crown

For anyone that thinks the sagging economy and rising gas costs are a problem for them, they should glad that they are not in charge of a girls traveling softball team.

When Triple Crown Girls Fastpitch World Series head Bill Walters said that numbers are down this year due to economy, he isn’t just randomly assigning blame. From December until the tournament opened last week, he watched gas prices steadily rise and tournament entrants slowly decline.

"You can almost track it. In January, February and March our numbers were up," Walters said. "In April they flattened out and in May they went away."

In late spring, 30 teams decided not to come to the tournament after previously registering.

"These were teams that were booked and paid for," Walters said.

According to Triple Crown Tournament Director Elliot Finkelstein, the cost to travel to a tournament like Triple Crown in Park City costs thousands. When Finkelstein was coaching a team a few years ago, he said it cost anywhere $7,500 to $10,000 depending on how far the team was traveling and what type of lodging was selected. These days, the total cost, which includes entry fees, uniforms and travel for an entire team can ring in at $40,000. And that’s not including parents. Finkelstein said that when you add that it, it can be another $20,000 per team.

In trying economic times, teams try different ways to offset the costs. Walters said that all teams handle fundraising differently from car washes, to magazine sales and everything in between. He said that more well-off parents will just make the decision to avoid the hassle and will often just write a check covering the portion for their child.

As costs continue to rise, Finkelstein said that many teams have decided to only attend tournaments relatively close to home or to limit their travel to just one big tournament.

"I’m not real happy with the economy," Finkelstein said. "I can understand that instead of two big trips, they’ll only do one.

Walters agrees and says that their Park City tournament may have lost out this year when teams made the decision to attend other events.

"There’s a lot of competition out there," he said. "If there is something of a similar caliber and its closer to home and offers a similar experience, that factors into it."

Walters said that many of the tournament’s lodging partners in Park City have reported teams trying to cut costs with room numbers. Teams that might have rented 20 rooms now rent 15. Teams that might have rented four condominiums in the past, now rent two. He has also noticed the number of parents and families members making the trip to watch their children or siblings has declined. Many of these issues came up for the Corona Xpress of Corona, Calif. According to Julie Jasper, financial coordinator for the team, many decisions were made this year based on rising gas costs and a rough economy. The team set up a budget in September based off of their expenses the previous year and went from there. Players were assessed $50 monthly dues, local businesses were tapped for sponsorships and they held numerous fundraisers throughout the year. They even received a $2,000 donation of equipment from Diamond Sports. Still, by the time the tournament registration was due, big decisions were already being made. The team decided to forego an invitation to a high-level tournament in Florida due to travel costs, instead choosing the drivable Park City.

"It really forced a decision to come back to Utah," Jasper said.

Jasper estimates that gas will cost $500 just to transport her family and the girls riding in her Ford Expedition and there are other cars and trucks in the team’s caravan. Some families deciding to double up for their accommodations and the team is staying at a hotel in Salt Lake rather than Park City to because of more reasonable rates and a free breakfast. Jasper also said that many parents and families that traveled with the team last year simply did not have the funds to make this year’s journey. For the families that did come, many of them are using the Triple Crown tourney as their one and only vacation of the year, so the team has planned plenty of BBQ’s and fun outings to make the experience more special.

Even teams closer to home are feeling the squeeze. Loyenn McKena, whose daughter plays for the Colorado Lady Outlaws said it cost her $130 in gas just to drive one way from their Denver home.

But Walters is still pleased with the enrollment this year, which is only down by 10 percent compared to last year. In fact, he aspires to grow the tournament to one of the largest in the region in the next five years.

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