Officials from the United States Specialty Sports Association will go to Macon on Jan. 31 to hand out prizes for the 2002-2003 church softball season. At least one part will be a replay.
Honors for the nation's top point-earner will go to Warren Baptist Church, as they have the previous three years.
The team has accomplished all it can, said manager Mike Pappas. "It is time to move on to something else."
So, instead of traveling from Florida to California to play in tournaments this spring, Warren's players will stick closer to home. They will play in prison yards of correctional institutions such as those at Edgefield and Kershaw, S.C., as part of an evangelistic outreach to inmates.
Mr. Pappas also is exploring the Augusta ballplayers' chances of combining sports camps with short-term foreign missions in 2005.
A typical game day at prison will have Warren's team compete in seven or eight games against teams of inmates.
Players will conduct devotionals with the inmates. "In between breaks or after the games, we will be able to share Christ with those guys," Mr. Pappas said. "We will be working with the chaplains in the prisons for follow-up."
He expects most inmates who play are scheduled to be released within four to five years. Without something to latch onto when they get out, they could be repeat offenders. Warren wants to help them be grounded in their faith, Mr. Pappas said.
Outfielder Bryce Massey said he is looking forward to playing in the prisons, but he is unsure what to expect.
"All I know is those guys need to be ministered to like anybody else. There is a great opportunity there," he said.
The USSSA requires church team players to be churchgoers. Though Warren plays against many such teams, it also competes against nonchurch opponents.
"It is always a ministry when you step onto the field," Mr. Massey said.
After the season opens, Warren will still play league ball in the Augusta area. It also will pick up an occasional tournament "as a reunion-type thing," Mr. Pappas said.
Warren's success propelled it through the division ranks. At the top level, Division A, it was one of about 20 such teams across the country. Travel demands on the Augusta ballplayers grew.
"We were going to play in one (tournament) in Hawaii in November, but we didn't have the money. It became more and more difficult to play," said Jack Hook, who plays several positions for the team.
News that Warren is scaling back competition is getting around.
Ray Davis of Columbus, Ga., who ranks nearly 400 church teams on his Web site, www.serioussoftball.com, said he had heard about it.
Warren was in fifth place for 2003, according to his calculations, and No. 1 by coaches in a poll posted on the USSSA Web site, www.usssa.com.
Mr. Davis, an organizer for Columbus' March 26-27 St. Luke Invitational, would like the team to reconsider competing.
"I would love to tell Mike Pappas to round up the boys and come down," he said.
For more information, call 860-1586 or visit the church slow-pitch team Web site, www.mindspring.com/nbryan/.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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