Clearwater, Fla. (WFLA) – This is the fourth year in a row for the TaxAct Clearwater Invitational Softball Tournament, one of the nation’s premier softball events. For many student-athletes, it is a hometown event in which they take pride in playing.
“It’s really emotional,” said Jordan Stephens, an Alabama outfielder who went to Robinson High School. “I’ve always had a dream to play college softball and I have so many memories – even warming up today I was thinking of you when I was 12 on these fields.”
“It’s awesome. Getting off the plane at my home airport was a great feeling,” said Duke pitcher and outfielder Claire Davidson, who played her junior and senior years at Lakewood Ranch High School. “The weather is great. My father is so close. It’s been great.
“It was weird,” said Duke infielder Kamryn Jackson, who went to Sickles High School. “I went home to dinner with my family yesterday and was looking at my dogs and just having all the family and friends here – lots of supporters. It’s really exciting.”
Ten of the 16 teams in this tournament are ranked in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 poll, which brings the national softball spotlight to the Bay Area – a place where the talent pool and popularity of the sport have grown in recent years. has increased even more.
“There is elite softball around the region and it’s nice to see that we are now bringing an elite collegiate tournament,” said Michelle Smith, two-time Olympic gold medalist and softball commentator. The beginning of this event in 2019. “The amount of marketing it does and the reach of this tournament well beyond the collegiate softball season is far reaching and it’s great promotion for Pinellas County.”
The growth of the tournament is also indicative of how softball continues to grow in visibility.
“I remember coming in 2020 right before COVID hit,” Stephens said. “It was packed then but this tournament is nothing compared to what it is now. There are people everywhere. It’s a really fun environment—especially being in Alabama in the SEC and stuff—all of our games are televised. I love where the sport is going and I think there’s just such a huge market for it and it’s really inspiring to see how many people support us.
“It’s crazy,” Davidson said. “Even just to be here and see how many people are here. It’s sold out for weeks. It’s fantastic to see how far the sport has come.”