Soccer is making a big splash on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Since 2003, the Southeastern Conference has hosted its women’s championship at the Orange Beach Sportsplex.

Just up State Highway 59, officials with the Foley Sports Tourism Complex are also getting a piece of the action. For the second year in a row, they hosted the Sun Belt Conference women’s championship.

In addition to that event, it has been announced Foley will be home to the Alabama Soccer Association State Cup for the next five years. The tournament returned for a second year in November, and will now be back through 2022.

“We are thrilled to continue our great partnership with the Foley Sports Tourism Complex,” said ASA Executive Director Tom Condone. “The complex is state of the art and the ability to bring our state championships to the Alabama beaches as a destination is very exciting.”

Condone said the State Cup attracts the best youth soccer teams from throughout Alabama. During the 2016 and 2017 matches, more than 100 teams competed at the event.

These soccer events can have a great impact on the local economies. With age divisions ranging from under 14 to under 19, State Cup players traveled with their families. Tournament officials said this caused Foley lodging establishments to be full or near capacity when the event was in town.

“We’re very proud of how far we’ve been able to bring the Foley Sports Tourism Complex,” said FSTC Director David Thompson. “We know that once an event comes to Foley we can win them over with our special brand of hospitality. That’s exactly what we’ve been able to achieve with the State Cup. This helps us continue in our mission to brand Foley as a one-of-a-kind sports tourism destination.”

The State Cup extension follows news that the Sun Belt Conference has signed on to host its women’s soccer championships in Foley for the next two years. And with the 90,000-square-foot Foley Event Center having opened in September, the complex is looking to replicate the soccer successes with the indoor sports tourism market as well.

“Now our community can count on seeing visitors in early November,” Thompson said. “That’s a time of year that’s generally considered off-season for the area. This helps us become more consistent economically throughout the year.”

Kittrell takes the helm at SHC
The softball program at Spring Hill College was in turmoil. Joe Guthrie, who had recently been named as the third head coach in the program’s history, suddenly resigned to take a position at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Making matters worse, assistant coach Courtnay Foster — Guthrie’s wife — was also leaving for the Sun Belt school.

With the season opening in just a few months, a familiar name came to the rescue. SHC officials have named baseball legend Steve Kittrell to serve as interim head coach.

Kittrell built a career record of 1052-644-1 (.620) in 25 seasons as the head baseball coach at the University of South Alabama from 1984 to 2011. Prior to leading his alma mater, Kittrell served as the Badger head baseball coach in 1983 (posting a 33-19 record).

“I am very excited to be named the softball coach at Spring Hill College,” Kittrell said. “I want to thank SHC president Dr. Christopher Puto and Director of Athletics Jim Hall for giving me this opportunity.

“Over the past three years, I have been an assistant softball coach at Gulf Shores High School and I worked under two outstanding coaches in Trevor Powell and Brian Parrish. I want to thank both of them, GSHS, and especially the young ladies that I coached. They all made it a great experience.”

On Feb. 23, 2009, Kittrell became only the 50th coach in NCAA baseball history to reach the 1,000-win plateau. He led the Jaguars to 18 NCAA tournament appearances, including 10 Sun Belt Conference championships. A member of the USA Athletic Hall of Fame, Kittrell announced his retirement from the Jaguars program after the 2011 season.

“I am glad that Steve has agreed to lead our softball team this spring,” Hall said. “I don’t think we could have found a more knowledgeable and respected coach and educator to coach our team. I am confident that our players are in good hands and will learn a lot this season.”

Kittrell inherits a Badgers team that has enjoyed significant success over its history, especially during the past five seasons, when it has built a 197-68 overall record including an 86-18 mark in conference play.

Senior Bowl names first players
Of the first 26 seniors who have accepted invitations to the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl, only 10 are coming from the so-called Power 5 conferences. The others are from the FCS level and Division III.

“Some of these players may not be household names — yet — but they are extremely talented football players and we’re as excited as they are about playing in this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl,” said Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage.

Some of the Power 5 players to accept are Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby, Florida corner Duke Dawson, Michigan linebacker Mike McCray, Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard, USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and Indiana tight end Ian Thomas.

Among those from the smaller schools are tight end Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State (2016 finalist for the Walter Payton Award with single-season school record 92 receptions), cornerback Danny Johnson of Southern (All-SWAC defender who led the FCS with 7 interceptions in 2016), cornerback Michael Joseph of Dubuque (leads the nation with 8 interceptions), linebacker Darius Leonard of South Carolina State (All-American linebacker who finished the season with 114 tackles) and tackle Brandon Parker of North Carolina A&T (2017 Finalist for the Walter Payton Award).

The Reese’s Senior Bowl will eventually build two rosters, totaling 110 players. They will meet in Mobile to practice in front of nearly 1,000 NFL personnel. ESPN and NFL Network will broadcast the practices live each day.

The 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl is set for Jan. 27 at 1:30 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. NFL Network will televise the game.

(Photo/ Submitted) The Foley Sports Tourism Complex features 16 state-of-the-art fields and a 90,000-square-foot indoor events center.