The former Wapakoneta High School varsity softball coach knew it would be difficult to take members of his team to a couple of college softball games each year, so in 1997 he did the next best thing — he brought them to Wapakoneta.
On Saturday, Bob Elsass, who organized the 14th Red And White College Softball tournament, watched the nine teams visiting Wapakoneta play their games throughout the day at Veterans Memorial Park.
“I always asked the kids if they were going to college and they always said they weren’t good enough to play at that level and I knew that wasn’t true,” Elsass said. “So instead of taking them to a college game or two, I thought it would be best if I would bring the teams here.
“I think they soon realized they could play at that level,” he said. “I know there are a lot of other factors involved, but the area has had a lot of kids play at the next level since I started this.”
Through the years, he has had teams throughout Ohio as well as squads from five of Ohio’s surrounding states play in the tournament.
The sponsor list also has grown with this year’s sponsors being Astro Bowling Lanes, Dairy Queen of Wapakoneta, Home Savings, Lima Sporting Goods and Worth Sports Co.
He also has received plenty of volunteer help to make sure the games go on without a hitch.
Jon Derryberry continues to organize and assign softball umpires to officiate the games.
When it first started, former Redskins varsity baseball coach Andy Bowman helped with the fields and the concession stand and now Redskin varsity baseball coach Jason Brandt and his assistant Gabe Coil
handle the same duties.
Elsass also shared that the college coaches tell him they enjoy the level of competition and it provides them with a chance to see their teams in game situations.
“The coaches have an opportunity to see the kids play and at times see them play in new positions,” Elsass said, noting this is the first look for coaches at their incoming freshmen. “The one thing I like most is the college coaches are so nice and they are so willing to help the kids learn. The coaches and the kids are so willing to offer their help to each other, to other teams.
“Everything is just so laid back,” he said.
On Saturday, a pitcher on one team was showing others and Elsass how she throws her change-up.
Discussing the quality of pitching at Saturday’s tournament, Elsass addressed the evolution of the sport. When the tournament first started, high school pitchers threw only fastballs and now they have several different pitchers.
“The caliber of play is just unbelievable compared to 14 years ago,” Elsass said, reminiscing about some of the girls who played for the Wapakoneta Redskins and went on to compete in college. “Fourteen years ago you never saw a girl hit one over the fence and now there is one in almost every game. We see more power today and we see more slap hitting today.
“The defense is so much better with girls covering so much more ground and making unbelievable throws,” he said. “I think they know more about the game and they are so much better conditioned to play the game.”
Standing near the concession stand in a red shirt, Elsass watches the Findlay Trojans take on the Miami Valley Express, a team who has returned to the tournament 13 of the 14 years it has been held.
He notes he sends out 80 to 90 invitations to college teams to visit Wapakoneta and he always receives a couple new inquiries. Before leaving the park, several of coaches tell Elsass they will be back next year, asking him when it is. He responds Sept. 28, 2012.
Looking the same as he did when coached, an excitement is visible in Elsass’s eyes.
“I enjoy doing this, I just enjoy this sport,” Elsass told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “Everything about this sport, the coaches and the kids are great.
“Today turned out to be a beautiful day, and this is a beautiful facility — one the city should be very proud of having. The parents always comment on how nice the fields are and how nice the park is. It just makes for a great day.”