First and foremost, I’d like to say congratulations to Jason Collins and Robbie Rodgers on becoming the first openly gay active athletes in the NBA and MLS, respectively. Collins is a 7 ft., 255 lbs. graduate of Stanford University and has played in the NBA for 12 years with 6 different teams. His twin brother, Jarron Collins, who came out in support of his brother, also played in the NBA. Robbie Rodgers returns to the MLS this year after a brief retirement on the heels of his coming out announcement in February on his blog. The former USA national team member resumes his career with the LA Galaxy this season, taking the starting left outside midfielder position, vacated by the retirement of David Beckham.
Also, Brittney Griner, arguably women’s basketball’s best player, and Megan Rapinoe, a starter on the women’s USA national soccer team, both announced to the public that they are lesbians, giving the community two more role models to look to for inspiration.
These athletes’courage and bravery should not be underestimated or taken for granted. Hopefully, one day soon, they will be joined by other fellow athletes in theirs, and other sports, and sexual orientation will become less of a divisive issue in American culture.
Now, on to the scores!
The Big Peach Softball Tournament in Atlanta, Ga., took place over Memorial Day weekend and was one of the most competitive fields the event has ever amassed. Annual World Series competitors filled out most of the brackets, with teams coming from as far away as Los Angeles.
In the B Division, the Knoxville Cyclones, fresh off a tournament championship in Las Vegas a month ago, were upset in the semis by the eventual champions, the Atlanta Genesis. In the final, Genesis met up against the South Florida METZ out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Led by Charlotte’s own Shawn Carlton, who made several athletic defensive plays at short stop and went 3-4 at the plate, the Genesis were able to defeat the METZ 16-10.
The most competitive this year was C Division with 20 teams ranging from California, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Making a surprising run into the top three was the Carolina Thunder out of Raleigh, N.C., who finished third this year, just edging out the Knoxville Cyclones who annually compete for the title. In the final, the Atlanta Menace faced off against the Orlando Fury. Buoyed by the home crowd and the win by fellow Atlanta team, the Genesis, in the B Championship, The Menace rolled through the final convincingly, winning 13-3.
Atlanta looked to make it a clean sweep in all divisions this year, but in the D division they were denied when the Atlanta Aggression lost to the Knoxville Cyclones in the third place game. The LA Thunder Bolts then took on the Dallas Blue Devils in the championship game. This was the first time competing at this tournament for both teams, so no one knew quite what to expect. But, both teams played inspired softball and kept the game close until the very end, when the Thunder Bolts were able to win the game on a walk off single to right field in the bottom of the 7th.
The next softball tournament in the Southeast is in Nashville, Tenn., July 6th-7th at the MNSA Classic followed by the KTown Shootout in Knoxville, Tenn., July 27th.
Memorial Day also saw the Charlotte Royals travel up north to Chicago for their biennial rugby tournament called Combustion 2013. Eight teams competed for two days in the cold, wet and windy conditions for the title. Charlotte was joined by the Madison (Wisconsin) Minotaurs, Chicago Dragons, Ottawa Wolves, Nashville Grizzlies, New England Valkyrie, DC Scandals and the Minneapolis Mayhem.
The first day was comprised of round robin games, with each team playing three other teams. At the end, only Charlotte and New England had won all three of their seeding games, with the Valkyrie taking the number one seed on point differential. Leading the way in those first few games for the Royals were rookies Sam Behrend and Karl Wagner, both backline players, who scored multiple tries in Saturday’s games. As always, the Royals trademark defense was in full effect, not allowing any team to score more than one try against them.
The second day, Charlotte was able to beat an undermanned Ottawa squad in a contest that was much more competitive than the previous day’s 28-5 win. From there, the Royals faced off against the Chicago Dragons in the semifinals. This was a rematch from the semifinals in Nashville just a month ago in which the Dragons edged Charlotte 10-7.This game was the best one of the tournament by far. Both teams were evenly matched, had become familiar with each other’s playing styles and knew what it was going to take to win…100 percent effort.
Chicago took a 7-0 lead into the half and then quickly scored to start the second half. Charlotte fought hard, but was stymied at the goal line several times by the Dragon stout defense. With five minutes left in the game, the Royals were finally able to score and had clearly gained the momentum against the exhausted-looking Chicago team. But, there just was not enough time left to even the match, and Charlotte lost to the eventual champions (Chicago over New England) 14-7.
They didn’t have long to sulk about the loss, however, because immediately after the game, Charlotte played Minneapolis for third place. Given that this was the 7th game for both teams in two days, the rugby played was not the prettiest to watch, but the effort and desire was clear to onlookers. Each team scored on long runs from their inside centers, resulting in the game being tied 7-7 at the end of regulation. To decide the winner, the referee called for a penalty shootout, with three kickers from each team, taking a 30-meter kick up and through the uprights, much like in soccer. This was a huge advantage for the Royals who have three kickers on their roster, while Minneapolis only had one on theirs. Danny Wadsworth sealed the win for the Royals on the third and final kick to win another third place victory this season. Earning man of the tournament for Charlotte was Coty Webb, whose phenomenal work in the scrums, rucks and lineouts, along with his outstanding and aggressive tackling, did not go unnoticed by the team, fans and other players.
This puts a cap on the Royals season, which by all accounts was a great success. Two third-place finishes in two major tournaments puts Charlotte on the map as one of the best teams in the Southeast. Next season, the team will look to improve even more, and hopefully breakthrough with championship soon.
For information on when the next season will begin or how to join, go to their webpage at charlotteroyals.org. : :