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Tribe ready to host NAYO

The Howard Tiger Field at Osceola Park on the Hollywood Reservation will be filled with teams July 19-21 for the annual NAYO softball and baseball tournament. Brian Piccolo Sports Park in Cooper City will also be used as a venue. (Kevin Johnson photo)

HOLLYWOOD — The NAYO rotation has landed in Hollywood.

The Seminole Tribe will host the annual Native American Youth Organization baseball and softball tournament July 19 to 21. Games will be played on the two fields at the Hollywood Reservation’s Osceola Park and five miles away at Brian Piccolo Sports Park in Cooper City. It will be the first time the Tribe has hosted the tournament since 2013 when it drew about 45 teams in Okeechobee.

Teams from the Cherokee (North Carolina), Choctaw (Mississippi), Poarch Creek (Alabama) and Seneca (New York) will come to South Florida in the heart of summer. Hollywood Recreation site manager Joe Collins, who is serving as tournament director, said he expects about 10 Seminole teams will participate. Even though the tournament is being hosted by the Seminoles, it doesn’t necessarily cause a spike in the number of Seminole teams. Sometimes families prefer out-of-state trips to combine NAYO tournaments with summer vacations.

“Sometimes going away generates more teams, more talk about it. You’d think the opposite, that playing at home would be easier to get players, but the opportunity to play outside [of Florida] seems to draw more in,” Collins said.

As is usually the case with baseball and softball, most Seminole teams will come from the Brighton Reservation. Collins said there will probably be one or two teams from Big Cypress and one team from Hollywood. Immokalee, which has some strong softball players, could have representation, too. Several Seminole Recreation employees will be working at the tournament and some will be coaches.

“We’re doing everything from trash pickup, putting up tents, selling shirts, water, ice. The staff is heavily involved,” Collins said.

This is the first time the Tribe has used Brian Piccolo Sports Park for a NAYO tournament. NAYO will occupy all eight fields at the park, which is named in memory of the former Chicago Bears running back from Fort Lauderdale who died from cancer in 1970 at age 26 and whose inspirational story played out in the movie “Brian’s Song.”

The tournament features 10 divisions, five each for baseball and softball. Age groups start at 7-8 for coach-pitch all the way up to high school for 16-17 with a few 18s who meet the age deadline requirements.

Uncooperative weather always seems to play a role at NAYO no matter the location. With outdoor games in the Florida heat in July, Collins stressed the importance of staying hydrated. He said the past couple tournaments have had heat exhaustion incidents.

“It will be tough on the players playing in this. We’ve already warned them. They need to be hydrating weeks ahead of time; if you just drink here, you’re in trouble,” he said. “Mississippi and Alabama have pretty much the same weather we have, so they’re used to it, but like the Cherokee and the teams from New York, they need to start hydrating weeks out, drinking tons of water.”

Collins said the heat warnings apply to spectators, too.

“Even though you’re sitting in a chair, you have to drink, too, because you will sweat here,” he said.

The tournament will be staffed by Seminole Fire Rescue personnel at both locations.

Games will have time limits. It’s 75 minutes for all softball and the 7-8 baseball, 90 minutes for 9-10 and 11-12 baseball, and two hours for 13-15 and 16-17 baseball. The two older baseball divisions play seven innings; the rest of the divisions play six innings.

Teams that finish in first, second or third place receive trophies. Champions will get jackets.

Collins said he would like vendors to be a part of the tournament environment in Hollywood.

“I want to bring the vendors from the community, especially the seniors, and allow them to be on site to sell their products.

o me, it brings in the community to the event,” he said.

As for visitors, Collins said he’s fielded a lot of calls about things to do outside of the games.

“I get a lot of them asking about the distance to the beaches, the distance to Orlando,” he said.

Last year’s NAYO tournament was held at the same time as the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, so participation on the Seminole side was lighter than usual because some of the athletes were in Canada.

The Tribe wouldn’t mind duplicating the success it had in the 2013 tournament in Okeechobee when three of its teams (9-10 baseball, 13-15 baseball and 16-18 softball) won championships.

When the tournament ends, the focus for Hollywood will shift to the NAYO basketball tournament, which it will host Easter weekend.

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