By DANA SULONEN
Special to the Journal
GREENFORD - It's no secret about the quality of softball that is played in the Mahoning Valley.
Since 2000, the area has had teams qualify to the state final four every year except 2007 and 2003. In those 12 years, the Mahoning Valley has produced five state winners in a division and five state runners-up.
South Range softball coach Don Feren is well aware of this talent. That is why he and a group of coaches created the Mahoning Valley Invitational, which begins today and continues through Saturday.
"We thought there were so many good teams in this area, why not have something like this," Feren said. "We all have a lot of connections around the area and up in Ashtabula, so it was easy to get 16 teams involved."
The invitational will be hosted at both South Range High School as well as Boardman High School and the Field of Dreams in Boardman.
Teams that are playing at the South Range site are Madison, Columbiana, Conneaut, Cardinal Mooney, South Range, Warren Harding, Austintown Fitch and Pymatuning Valley.
Playing in Boardman are Newton Falls, Hubbard, Liberty, Western Reserve, Jefferson, Poland, Boardman and Champion.
"Myself and many of these teams have been traveling to the Wendy's Classic (in Ashland) for the past couple years," Feren said. "And you pay money, and sometimes you don't get as many games as you paid for, and you don't get your money back. What we're doing, is if you don't play, you get money back. And you're guaranteed three games."
Champion coach Cheryl Weaver has led her Golden Flashes to numerous tournaments and invitationals around the state - including the prestigious Wendy's Classic in Ashland as well as the Prebis Tournament in LaGrange. Weaver is ecstatic to be able to stay home and still see standout competition.
"There are a lot of good teams around here," Weaver said. "This makes it a lot nicer being so close. It's nice to see that the melting pot of good, quality softball in the state used to be around Akron. It's now moving up to Trumbull and Mahoning County so playing in this is definitely worth it."
Because of the quality talent in the area, Feren is already looking to expand the field next year to 32 teams and has already received interest from teams in Kentucky, Michigan and New York wanting to come down and play.
"We thought about making it a little bigger, but it was our first year and we fielded 16 teams very quick," Feren said. "I think it's a great opportunity for the girls. You could play the teams around here, and play them over and over. But if you play against teams from out of state, it gets the girls excited. That's the goal for this tournament"
The games begin at 4:15 p.m. today. Each site will host two games on both Thursday and Friday. Saturday games will begin at 10 a.m. and continue through 4 p.m.