2010 marked the 10th Anniversary of the Firecracker Classic sponsored by Easton Sports. It was run the weekend of July 31& August 1, 2010 based at the Connecticut Sportsplex in North Branford, Connecticut. Once again Brett Helmer and Easton Sports were onboard with sponsorship of this marquee event. They have been apart of this event for 6 years now and the last 3 have been providing the bats as well. Each field used for the tournament had a 26, 27 & 28 oz. Synergy 2 Reissue for the teams to use. Each bat also had special tour¬nament markings so that players who owned that model bat could not sneak their own into play. Teams were also issued the new Composite Classic M Dudley softball thus putting all 60 teams on the same level playing field – bats and balls.
This year the tournament hit an all-time high with 60 teams. 12 fields were used to play a total of 205 games over just a 2 day period. Over the past decade 413 teams from 10 different states and Canada have played in this event and here an annual breakdown:
2001 = 35 Teams
2002 = 30 Teams
2003 = 36 Teams
2004 = 40 Teams
2005 = 44 Teams
2006 = 30 Teams
2007 = 52 Teams
2008 = 40 Teams
2009 = 46 Teams
2010 = 60 Teams
TOAL = 413 Teams
The Tournament Director also happens to be the State Director of Connecticut – Jon Brandt. He has held the position as State Director now for 11 years. After his first full season back in 2000 he was sitting around one night thinking of how to make the upcoming 2001 season better. A big bracket tournament seemed to be the way to go since there really were none in the Northeast. As a player he had played in many of the big New Jersey tournaments over the years and began using some components of those as a model for his. It was closing in on midnight but ideas kept popping into his head. He began to jotting ideas down and next thing you know it was close to 3am. Time didn’t matter – the foundation for the Firecracker had now been laid.
The inaugural event was to be played at the now defunct New England Sportsplex in Vernon, Connecticut. 35 teams bought into this new tournament which featured brackets consisting of 4 teams with all teams advancing into a playoff round. Each team would play the other 3 teams in their division. Then each bracket winner would advance to the Gold Flight and play double elimi¬nation playoffs. Each 2nd place bracket team would then advance to the double elimination Silver Flight playoffs. Then all of the 3rd and 4th place teams would advance to single elimination playoffs. So everybody advanced out of bracket play but everything was scaled as to how well your team did in their bracket. This concept seemed to be a good selling point to the teams.
In 2002 the tournament declined some by having 30 teams but all teams involved had a great time. This was now the final season of the New England Sportsplex so the tournament would now be moving to a new home at the Connecticut Sportsplex in North Branford.
It was well received in North Branford in 2003 and stayed pretty steady until 2006. 2006 marked the first time the tourna-ment had reached 50+ teams but sadly a major storm hit that weekend and the tournament had to be rescheduled. It was however rescheduled but the Connecticut Sportsplex was not avail¬able that weekend so the tournament was played throughout Connecticut. 30 teams still played despite having to rear¬range their season schedules.
In 2007 we finally hit the 50+ team mark and the tournament came off with no issues. We were really picking up steam now but then came along the Conference USSSA Northeast Shootout. The Shootout needed a home but no dates worked other than when the Firecracker was run. Thus the Firecracker had to be moved to the first weekend in June in order to accommodate the Northeast Shootout. Teams were a little confused in 2008 still thinking is was the end of June and thus the tourna¬ment took a little hit participation wise that year landing only 40 participants. However 2009 teams make the weekend adjustment and got it back to 46.
Which brings us to this past years 10th anniversary tournament. The first of the 205 games completed was on Field 2 of the Connecticut Sportsplex on Saturday morning in bracket play and ironi¬cally the last game which was the Gold Division final was completed at 11:15pm on Sunday night on that very same field. 90 Bracket games commenced at 8:00am Saturday and concluded around 5:00pm. All 15 bracket winners received a nice team trophy acknowl¬edging their accomplishment and then it was on to the second season. Playoffs for all divisions commenced right away and into the night Saturday. All teams from all divisions came back on Sunday but soon teams starting dropping like flies. The Gold flight saw its 2 finalists take 2 different paths to get to the title game. The Banner met Denelex/ Coaches/Bingers in the opening game on Saturday night with the Banner prevailing. Denelex/Coaches/Bingers was immediately in the hole but on Sunday rattled off impressive wins over Team Synergy, PTC, Valley Motors, Turano Construction and then 2 unbe¬lieveable back to back 27-26 wins over Checking/Worth and Manhattan Beer respectively. This would put them in the Gold Division title game against The Banner who took the undefeated path to get there. Denelex/Coaches/Bingers continued on a roll in the title game taking a 24-19 lead into the top of the 7th. However The Banner showed their poise and put up 10 runs in the top of the 7th, a blow that the downstate New York team just could not overcome. Cory King and Mike Allard were CO MVP’s in the Gold Flight.
The Silver Division found a pecu¬liar participant in Conference USSSA member Darkside/TYJA who had been upset in their bracket by a tough Valley Motors team from Rhode Island.
Darkside would make it to the Silver Division championship game but not before they were sent into the losers bracket by another solid D club in Outback/Chuck & Eddies hailing from Connecticut. Tinkers/Boombah took the undefeated route to get to the title game with impressive wins over C&S Pawn, PBR/ Elite/Easton, Outback/Chuck
& Eddies and then 9th place finishers from the Mens C Worlds in 2009 – Softball Supplements out of Rhode Island. Darkside was building up a lot of momentum coming into the title game and took it out on an injury depleted Tinkers/Boombah. Tinkers/Boombah had fought valiantly throughout the playoffs but the injuries were just too many and they had to relinquish the title to Darkside. Matt Smith was named MVP for Darkside.
The Bronze Division maybe the toughest of the 3 divisions to win simply because there are 30 teams in it and its played all night Saturday and starts up first thing Sunday. Many World tournament tested D and E teams were entered so the competi¬tion was intense. The 06111’ers from Newington, CT were rela¬tive unknowns before the Firecracker but got on a roll. They rattled off 3 wins to get to the winners bracket final against a solid Sweitzer team that had traveled out to Michigan in 2009 for the Mens D Worlds. The 06111’ers jumped on Switzer early and held off a furious Sweitzer rally late for a well deserved 19-15 game which would put them in the drivers seat in the championship game. Sweitzer quickly disposed of Double Barrel in the losers bracket final and then had a crack at the 06111’ers again. Sweitzer did not disappoint. They laid waste to the Cinderella team from Newington 16-1 in 4 innings. It didn’t look good for the 06111’ers and Switzer immediately jumped on them in the IF game. Sweitzer stayed in control for the entire game and took a 15-10 lead with them out in the field going into the bottom of the 7th. Most E teams would fold playing a solid D team and being down 5 in the bottom of the 7th but these guys didn’t know they were suppose to feel that way and showed what they were made of and rallied for 6 runs to defeat Swwitzer 16-15 and probably the greatest ending of the 2005 games. Veteran pitcher and MVP Mark Joseph just would not let his young guys crumble.
by Jon Brandt- Tournament Director
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World's Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!