Custom Classic gets upgrade, but legacy remains

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

he and staff would do Custom Classic brackets by hand, cutting and pasting typed-out team names on each bracket to give the brackets a little bit of class.

Now, technology has cut the clutter to Jackson’s laptop and a couple of tournament binders. But the mission remains to uphold the class that’s been afforded to the annual double-elimination tournament, now one of the crown jewels of New Mexico softball.

The Plateau Wireless Custom Classic kicked off its 27th run Friday night at Guy Leeder Softball Complex.

In all, 125 teams in five different divisions will see time on one of Leeder’s five fields or across town at Bob Spencer Park.

“It does get easier,” Jackson, the tournament’s longtime coordinator, said between team signups Friday night. “I’ve got a great staff. They bust their humps, and they know what to expect.”

Though it’s easier, the hours are still packed. Jackson and other directors are constantly signing teams up throughout the first hours — early games usually feature Clovis teams, so out-of-town squads have time to travel to Clovis on Friday.

Every team that comes in gets a tournament packet with brackets and scorebooks, and a first warning from Jackson that it’s illegal to store softballs in an ice chest.

The second warning is a year’s suspension for the offending team’s coach.

But not every question gets handled during the signup, as umpires and tournament officials constantly sneak in the office for rulings.

l Can players wear do-rags on the field? “Yes, that’s OK,” says Jeff Greene, umpire chair and tournament director.

l There’s a guy with a “ching ching” ice cream cart? “He’s approved,” Jackson said.

l Are these earrings OK? “Gotta come off,” numerous directors chime in. “No jewelry on the field.”

There are small teams, like the Bovina-based Team Panic, a collection of mostly new players.

“When I say, ‘Don’t,’ you say, ‘Panic,’” coach Frank Gonzalez chants before the team opened play against SOS Softball on Field 3.

And there are the big teams, like Snider Electric, a Clovis team with a national USSSA ranking looking to win the competitive men’s bracket.

Every player and team has a different story, and at least one staffer seems to know every story.

“If they don’t come back as the same team, they come back with another team or create a different one,” Jackson said. “I would say out of the 1,700 or 1,800 players out here, 1,600 to 1,700 have been in this tournament before.”

Some are back after a 10-year hiatus, and others never miss it because, “It’s the Custom,” as Josh Reames of Clovis said.

“This is the big one, they all come,” Reaves said as he signed up his Mulisha Softball squad. “I think the guys like to play out here all night. You’ve got teams from everywhere.”

The tournament runs through Sunday, and scores will be updated online at www.usssa.com.