The Mt. Rushmore Classic girls softball tournament is celebrating its 25th year, in a year there was certainly some doubt that it would happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It turned out to be the largest Mt. Rushmore Classic ever with 106 teams competing from 10 years-old to 18 years-old
"When we started out there was about 10 to 12 teams, and it just kind of kept growing," tournament director Rick DenHerder said. "Like a lot of youth sports, people come here to play, but they will go somewhere else to visit in the Hills. Most of the teams are from a reasonable distance. They get to be in the Black Hills. We start on Friday nights and probably two-thirds of the teams come up on Wednesday and Thursday and make a little family vacation out of it. This year, that is a big deal."
It's been a tough year for all teams involved with missed practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While that is always a concern for a tournament like this, DenHerder said they are being safe and following guidelines they were given by the City of Rapid City.
"We sanitize, we're cleaning, but out here at Star of West people are distancing," he said. "I think people were locked up, this is an outdoor sport, it's a good place to see and get away."
DenHerder said that he estimates that there were close to 15 tournaments canceled in May and June in South Dakota. That made the Mt. Rushmore Classic even more desirable this year.
This year the State B and C tournaments are in Rapid City in the first week of August and the A will be in Sioux Falls the following week.
"It will just make it easier for families who want to travel or don't want to to travel," he said. "You still get to play a state tournament."
This is only the third tournament this season for the Minot (N.D.) Storm 18U team. They are a program that does make yearly trips to Rapid City.
"It's a weird year," Storm coach Gerard Cederscrom said. "We're just happy to be out playing period. We're trying to get the kids a good experience and have a lot of fun."
Early Saturday afternoon, the Storm earned a lop-sided win over the The Assault from Rapid City.
"It's been interesting," Cederscrom said. "Today we're actually hitting the ball. You can tell we haven't played much. The kids are getting used to each other, so it is kind of fun."
The Storm will have one more tournament this season — in two weeks at the North Dakota State Tournament in Minot.
It was a tough loss for The Assault, as head coach Joe Burmeister said it has been an inconsistent year beause of what all has gone down.
"The thing is and I've told every team that I have coached, our goal is to play our best ball at the end of the year," Burmeister said. "I think that is magnified this year more than any other year because with these games, we're about 20 games in with our league, every game is a learning experience."
Burmeister said each game is a glorified practice because of the earlier shutdown and the late start to the season.
"When we got the go-ahead from the city that the COVID plan was okay, we had limited repetition on the field," he said. "We had a handful of days where we got rained out. My team is mostly an older team, and of the 12 girls on this roster, 10 of them have jobs. It was hard to get them all here. We missed a lot of repetitions. We were doing workouts at the gym at the Boys Club once a week, and when this all happened we lost two months of that time.
"It all adds up that we are going to be inconsistent. We went from winning a game 17-5 against a team that was similar in talent to this team (Minot), then we lost and looking like we had never been on the field before. They are painful lessons, but hopefully they turn into lessons."
Rapid City Crush 18U coach Roy England said the Mt. Rushmore Classic is always one of the best tournaments that his teams compete in each year, as in the past they have gone to tournaments in Utah and Minnesota.
This season, however, the Crush are staying home.
"This year has been really screwy because we haven't gone anywhere," England said after his team shut out the Nebraska Dominators 6-0 behind a no-hitter pitched by Aslyssa Burke.
"We haven't gone to Steamboat, we haven't gone to Gillette," he said. "It changes up our play a little bit as a competitive travel team. It's a screwy year, but you just make it happen."
Normally the Crush practice in December and go all of the way through, and then they got shut out by COVID-19.
"We couldn't even gather in small groups as a team, so a lot of girls did their own things," he said. "We're still coming into our stride a little bit. You learn, and like I told the girls today, you have to make adjustments in every at-bat, every pitch. Usually that is a step we figure out in the gym, now we have to figure it out during games."
Rapid City Defenders 12-under coach Robyn Beaird said she likes the Mt. Rushmore Classic as they are basically just starting off their season.
"They are still shaking off their jitters because they haven't had a chance to play much ball," she said. "This is a great tournament for kids to come out and play in."
Beaird is now coaching her grand daughter, Bailee, after originally coaching her daughter, Ashton Beaird.
"I wasn't sure how I would feel from 18s to 6s. That first year was a little bit of a battle, but that was a lot of fun," she said about coaching Bailee when she was 6. "It is rewarding, the kids are great. I love kids, and I love sports
In all of his years in softball, DenHerder said that one thing he has noticed is the level of play over the year has just continued to rise.
"Not just in the number of kids playing, but the actual level of play," he said. "I can sit here and watch 10 year-olds play and they know the game. They know what they are supposed to do. It has come a long ways and it is fun to see that level of play."
The tournament continues Sunday at Parkview and Star of the West Complex.
"It's great softball," DenHerder said. "There are kids from 10 years-old to 18 years-old. It is just as much fun to watch the 10 year-olds play than watching the 18 year-olds."
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