Fans’ passion heats up slow-pitch softball

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Hamilton fans were mad before the game even started last week at Monroe County rival Smithville.

Last season, one area coach was taunted by opposing fans after a North State championship loss.

It’s not football. It’s slow-pitch softball, one of Mississippi’s most intense sports.

The announcer at Smithville accidentally called Hamilton the “Tigers.” The Lady Lions didn’t like it one bit.

“It can get intense, especially when you’ve got two good teams like this with hopes of winning it all again,” Smithville coach Jeremy Duke said. “It can get pretty serious pretty quick.”

But what makes fans so intense, toeing a fine line that shows either support or a tough time restraining from unruly adult behavior?

Sheriff’s deputies were called to Smithville. One fan asked another not to film his daughter’s at-bat. Another said students were calling the other team profane names.

Poor sportsmanship has become a disturbing trend throughout the state, with fans yelling at opposing coaches and players, even their own … and sometimes, each other.

“I think a lot of times the parents are more involved in the game than the players,” Hamilton parent Candi Atkins said.

Players can’t get scholarships in slow pitch softball and fast pitch has taken over summer popularity, with many rival players playing together.

But if slow pitch is fading, you can’t tell that in Northeast Mississippi.

Nettleton and Mooreville have battled for Class 3A dominance. Baldwyn and Hatley have had their 2A battles. And Smithville-Hamilton has gone from a heated Monroe County rivalry to a division dogfight.

Hamilton won 2A in October. Smithville has won back-to-back Class 1A titles, as well as the fast pitch championship in 2012. When reclassification sent Hamilton to 1A – and into Smithville’s division – fireworks were imminent.

Hamilton hit eight home runs and won 14-3 last week.

Smithville hit three.

“It feels good to beat them, but they’re still my friends,” Hamilton senior Raimi Bryan said. “All those girls are my friends. There’s no hatred. It’s just a division rivalry through softball.”

Even so, rivalries like these are intense, sometime more intense in the bleachers.

“Everybody is so passionate about it. It’s good and bad,” Nettleton coach Dana Rhea said. “It’s nice to have passion, but you want to keep the integrity of the game.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com