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HBCU Collegiate Softball Invitational held at Turner Lake
HBCU Softball Invitational 2024

Last weekend, the HBCU+ network hosted its inaugural softball collegiate invitational in Covington at the Turner Lake complex.

It was a three-day event which was kickstarted by a softball clinic on Thursday. The clinic was followed by a Friday and Saturday packed full of games between 12 HBCU softball teams.

The 12 teams that attended were: North Carolina Central, Grambling State, Alabama A&M, Howard University, Jackson State, South Carolina State, Prairie View A&M, Alabama State, Maryland Eastern Shore, Fort Valley State, North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State.

The event was founded by a group of three individuals that consisted of Chenita Edwards, Leonard Moody and Ellie Moody.

Edwards' 30-plus years of connections in the softball scene allowed the tournament invites to reach many schools.

“We started from scratch,” Edwards said. “We talked about it last February, and once we got the college coaches on board, it just rolled from there. I know a lot of head coaches personally through years of playing, coaching them and just connecting with them.”

Edwards and Leonard had connections with the Newton County area through their coaching careers, and the connection with Horace Stroud, the athletic manager for county recreation, allowed for a swift approval of the event.

“I live in California, but I lived in Georgia for 12 years. Leonard Moody is very known in the community. We played a lot of travel ball there — my teams, his teams and our teams together,” Edwards said. “We decided to go that way. Once Leanord presented it to them, they jumped right on board, we were happy about that. They were really nice about it.”

As someone whose daughter plays across the country at an HBCU, Edwards felt that the Covington location would be beneficial to those in her same shoes.

“My daughter plays at North Carolina Central. We live in California now,” Edwards said. “So just like me and other parents and families, the HBCUs are south or southeast and it's hard to get to every game. That neutral area [in Covington], it was easier to see your daughters play, see other teams play and see other former teammates play. I think it worked out well for other schools to connect that way.”

With 12 HBCU teams from the southeast region coming to Covington, Edwards wanted to ensure that the event was orchestrated with the intention of spreading the word about what HBCU schools and athletic programs can provide.

HBCU+ network played a big part in that.

“The head coaches I have talked to just to get an atmosphere like that — they were all bought-in,” Edwards said. “It was more about coming together for a bigger cause than just competing and winning. Of course, everyone wants to win and compete at the highest level, but it was just getting them all together on a bigger platform to showcase their talent and to show that HBCU schools have very good talent. The girls were competing at a high level. I really believe that the HBCU+ network that streamed the event gave us and them a lot of visuals to people that did not know about HBCU schools. And people that didn’t know they had softball programs — now they do.”

At the softball clinic on Thursday, the three founders wanted to give back to Covington for allowing them to use the Turner Lake complex.

With Newton County kids having the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with collegiate softball players, Edwards shared the special meaning behind it.

“It was more of a connection, to let the little ones know that if they stay in this game what level they can play at,” Edwards said. “[And] to see girls like them get to that next level and compete at the highest level. It was a great turnout.”

With last week’s event being the first of its kind, it appears that the plans for next year’s event have already begun as they look to bring it back to Covington.

“It is already in motion,” Edwards said. “I have had meetings with more than a few people that know it is going to be hopefully a yearly event. We are just working out some kinks to make sure it gets better every year and hopefully we have some sponsors to hop on board.”