By Kevin Wilson
Roger Jackson has a 20-year-old, but in a different way than any parent.
Jackson doesn’t have to worry about his 20-year-old calling to beg for money or to say his grades at college are slipping. The 20-year-old is a softball tournament that has become synonymous with New Mexico softball, and vice versa.
“It’s just like a child,” said Jackson, who has been with the tournament every year since its inception. “The older it gets, it gets that much easier. Of course, I’ve got a great support staff now. I do all of the work for the last two weeks and tomorrow, I just hand it off to our tournament directors.”
Jackson will have a lot to hand off. The tournament has come a long way in the two decades since Jackson, Jimmy Fluckey and the late Harold Sparks organized a 13-team tournament.
This weekend, Guy Leeder Softball Complex and Portales’ Industrial Park will play host to 130 teams in five divisions. The double-elimination tournaments start tonight at the complex and run through Sunday afternoon’s championship games.
The field is the largest in the event’s history, trumping last year’s record by 20 teams.
“It’s huge,” Jackson said with a laugh. “It’s just huge. We’re just trying to make it happen. It’s bigger than we all anticipated.
“Adding 20 teams adds approximately 40 more games. Instead of three, three-and-a-half hours, it probably took five hours (to create the brackets).”
Jackson insists that the tournament would not be possible without help from neighboring communities. He said the four softball fields at Industrial Park will host about 56 games — adequate for a tournament on its own — and that he will have about two dozen out-of-town umpires.
The city of Clovis feels an ownership of the Classic, and justifiably so, but nobody working with the tournament discounts the importance of teams from other cities.
Jackson said the economic impact is positive for the entire surrounding area.
“It’s got to be an economic impact in Portales as well as Clovis,” Jackson said, “because all of the hotels are booked.”
Guy Leeder, the longtime president of the Clovis Softball Association, holds the same view.
“We look at our tournament much like we would a convention,” Leeder said. “You look at the impact on the town and what you can do for the town you live and work in.”
The tournament has helped Clovis, plus it has helped the game of softball in the area. The last three decades have proven it for the complex that is named after Leeder.
“We built it one field at a time and the first field was built in 1971,” said Leeder, who said the Custom Classic was one reason the complex needed to expand. “We got the fifth one in in about 1990.”
With every year that passes, Leeder sees one more reason to come to the tournament.
“There’s some super teams, super athletes at a high level,” Leeder said. “We’ve got people who played minor league baseball, we’ve got people who played college football.”
Most of the teams in the tournament come from a 200-mile radius, and several teams pique Jackson’s curiosity. Jackson thinks Silvas Softball is “one of the best teams in the country by far, by far the best in New Mexico” and he also looks forward to seeing Jimmy Fincher’s (Amarillo) and Mystery (Midland).
However, he adds the men’s competitive bracket is one where anybody in the top 16 could have a good game and change the entire complexion of the bracket.