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First swings for softball players
Flowery Branch High Pitcher Roxie Dalton delivers a pitch for the Falcons Tuesday morning during their game with Chestatee High at the Early Bird Camp at Chestatee High.

Five years ago, North Hall High softball coach Roger Fannon put together an effective way of kicking off fast pitch season following a state runner-up season in Class AAA.

Fannon’s Lady Trojans are one of the hosts of the fifth annual Early Bird Softball Camp, a four-day series of games that began Tuesday and will play until Friday at North Hall, Chestatee and North Georgia College & State University.

Tuesday’s opener featured notable teams such as defending Class AA state champion Buford, 2007 Class AAA state quarterfinalist Oconee County and other teams from several parts of the state, including Union Grove, Northside-Columbus, Franklin County and Luella.

Local teams that participated included North Hall, Chestatee, Flowery Branch and East Hall.

Today’s games will feature 2007 Class AAAA state semifinalist Greenbrier, Jeff Davis, Parkview and Lovett, along with the Hall County teams.

"You won’t win anything from playing, but there are some bragging rights for winning games here," Fannon said. "There’s the aspect of knowing you can play some of the best teams in the state."

Although the camp isn’t billed as a tournament and doesn’t have an official champion, it serves as a preseason for many local and distant softball teams, giving them an opportunity to prepare for regular season opponents and for coaches to evaluate their players.

"It’s a very relaxed atmosphere," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "It isn’t the end of the world to lose a game. It’s about just bringing the team back together."

The first camp included approximately eight to 10 teams, and has sprouted to 29 this year, including the junior varsity and varsity teams from many schools.

"It spreads by word of mouth," Fannon said. "I send about 100 invitations, and we’ll set up anyone who wants to play."

This year, the participants come from several different classifications and regions in Georgia as far south as Appling County and as far north as Union County, along with several state semifinalists and even a state champion.

"This is a great program because there’s good competition," Wolfe said. "That’s one of the things our team really likes."

The camp is also attractive due to its closeness to North Georgia College and State University, where one-third of the camp’s games will be played. For seniors, it serves as an opportunity to earn a college scholarship with the Saints, as it did last year, when two players were signed after playing there.

"We actually requested to play at North Georgia because they have shown interest in some of our players," Wolfe said. "It’s a great opportunity to get looked at by colleges."

For the younger players, the camp is a chance to earn a spot on their own team. With junior varsity teams also participating in the camp, coaches get an opportunity to see which newer players will fight for positions during the regular season.

"Almost every year, I have a surprise on my team," Fannon said. "We’ll have someone come along that steps up and ends up making the varsity squad."

With the chance of earning a starting spot on their teams, or an opportunity to take their game to the collegiate level, players are still taking the camp seriously, despite its lack of tournament bracket or championship trophy.

"The players get really excited about the camp and look forward to it every year," Fannon said. "We get an opportunity to play some teams that we never get to see during the school year."

This year’s Early Bird Camp features three games played simultaneously at the three different sites, beginning at 10 a.m. and continuing until 8:30 p.m. Games will be played 10 a.m.- 2:30 p.m at North Hall and Chestatee only on Friday.

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