For the next few weeks Elly Wright and her friends will be enjoying long summer days like most 7- and 8-year-old kids in the Swannanoa Valley.
The break is well earned for Wright and her Owen Babe Ruth 8U all-star softball team - it recently finished its second straight season as district champions and state runner-up. The Owen team was undefeated going into the championship game this season.
But there it lost June 27, by a score of 19-9, to the Babe Ruth all-star team from Davidson County. The team beat the Owen team twice in the double-elimination tournament in Hominy Valley, erasing the 17-7 defeat it suffered at the Owen team's hand in the opening of the state championship tournament.
The second-place finish was enough to qualify the Owen team for the Southeast Regional Tournament in Stafford, Virginia. The team opted not to go.
“We felt, as coaches and as a team, these girls needed a break,” Aaron Wright, father of Elly and coach of the team. “They’ve been playing a lot of ball these last few weeks, so they just need a chance to be little girls and enjoy their summer break.”
Some rest and relaxation seems fitting for the team, considering that the players began in mid-April, when the Owen Babe Ruth season began. Thirty-three girls filled out the rosters of three 8U softball teams. Coaches from each of those teams began discussing which players would fill the all-star team when the regular season ended in early June.
"We all played each other two or three times during the (regular) season," Aaron said. "So we all had a pretty good idea of which players should be on the all-star team."
Once the players were selected for the team they began practicing five days a week.
"When you play the regular season there's so many games every day that there's not much time for practice," Aaron said. "When it comes time for all-stars there are less games, so these girls would practice through the week. The girls put in a ton of work to get where they are."
This year's 8U all-star team, which includes children who are 7- or 8-years-old as of Jan. 1, was composed of most of the players on last year's squad. The experience has been a memorable one for Elly.
"My favorite part of playing in the state tournament is just being able to play softball and have all my friends being there to cheer us on," she said.
Support from parents and the community has been a crucial part of the team's success these last two seasons, according to the head coach.
"The last three nights of the state tournament there were probably 100-200 people there (watching)," Elly's father said. "It was unreal, and it was an amazing experience. I wanted the girls to pay attention to how the community was really behind them and what they were doing."
The backing of the community wasn't the only thing that surpassed the coach's outlook prior to the all-star season.
"These girls blew my expectations away," he said of his team. "They showed up and worked and none of them complained. The were determined to be good."
Most of the girls from the team will move up to 10U next season, Wright said. But the future is still bright for the younger Owen Babe Ruth softball teams.
"Our (softball) program is growing," he said. "Our 6U team finished second in the Fairview Invitational, second in the district and third in the state. A lot of the praise goes to the parents who are willing to sit through those practices and work with those kids when they go home."