The Peach Belt and Gulf South athletic conferences, in association with the Columbus Sports Council, officially announced on Thursday the Southern Softball Showdown. Slated for Jan. 30 and 31 at South Commons, the tournament will feature four teams from each conference, all of whom will play four games against each team from the opposing conference to open their 2016 seasons.
Not only will the eight teams face off against each other, but players from each of the teams will also participate in a free softball clinic for area youth softball players age 6-12 at 9 a.m. on Jan. 30 at the South Commons softball complex.
The eight teams are all highly successful and bring a slew of accolades. Representing the PBC are hometown Columbus State, the 2012 and 2013 PBC tournament champs; defending 2015 national champion North Georgia; Armstrong State, who reached the World Series in 2013 and 2014; and Augusta University.
From the Gulf South comes the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which finished No. 18 in last season's final poll; North Alabama, who reached the NCAA regional finals last year; Valdosta State, the 2012 national champion; and Delta State, who participated in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
All but CSU and Delta State participated in last season's NCAA tournament as well.
"We are so excited to be coming back to the city of Columbus," Peach Belt Conference commissioner David Brunk said. "(Columbus Sports Council Interim Director) Merri Sherman and her staff have hosted some fabulous events in the past."
Sherman agreed the tournament will be a boon for the Sports Council and Columbus in general.
"It's the start of a long list of events this year," Sherman said. "This all wouldn't be possible without our great relationship with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. They're a big help with events such as these that utilize their facilities."
Gulf South Conference commissioner Matt Wilson couldn't contain his excitement for the caliber of play the eight teams will bring to Columbus next weekend.
"There's not going to be anybody in the country in all of Division II softball surprised if you see the national champion come from the Peach Belt or the Gulf South. They're the two premier softball leagues in Division II," said Wilson. "You're putting some of the absolute best teams in the country on the field together. These games are going to play a huge factor when we get into April and May in (teams') resumes to reach NCAA (tournament) play."
CSU softball coach Brad Huskisson agreed with Wilson's assessment.
"I'm not sure there will be another tournament the rest of the year that will rival anything that happens (next) weekend," he said. "The people of Columbus are in for a treat."
"Other coaches I've talked to from the other teams are excited," Huskisson said. "A lot of us are old friends who have known each other for 10, 15 years. We all have a great competitive spirit and a great respect for one another. It's a chance for me to see those guys you only see once a month or when we're out on the recruiting trail.
"It's going to be a fun weekend."
Both Brunk and Wilson agreed this tournament could be a springboard into other collaborative efforts in other sports between the two conferences.
"We have been in conversations about expanding this in the future," Brunk said. "I think the door is wide open. We'd really love to nurture the relationship we have with the Gulf South."
"If we can collaborate and find a civic partner that wants to come alongside to provide us with great facilities and great events, it's absolutely the perfect situation for us," said Wilson. "Whether it's growing by the number of teams in this event or growing by other sports and other events, and then matching local communities that have outstanding facilities like (Columbus), I think it's something Dave and I are going to start working on collaboratively to see what we come up with."