High School Sports

Money ball: How the growing Mingo Bay pays off for local high schools, visitors alike

Members of the Gar-Field Indians watch as Indians pitcher Drew Early prepares to throw against the Highland Hawks in the Mingo Bay Classic at Myrtle Beach High School on Friday.
Members of the Gar-Field Indians watch as Indians pitcher Drew Early prepares to throw against the Highland Hawks in the Mingo Bay Classic at Myrtle Beach High School on Friday. jbell@thesunnews.com

The three men sat down in a room at Socastee High School with a single goal.

Make the grid work.

For more than nine hours one day the week before Christmas, Mingo Bay Classic director Mike Morris, Carolina Forest baseball coach Joey Worley and Myrtle Beach’s Tim Christy put the 96 teams entered in this week’s tournament together to form the schedule.

There were special requests along the way. Some teams asked for later games on the opening day due to increased travel demands. Others sought to play in the higher division while others wanted more sensible competition.

Public schools from New York aren’t allowed to play private schools. Teams being housed in the north end of the Grand Strand can’t be expected to play in Georgetown.

Altogether, it was arguably the least desirable part of planning and executing Mingo Bay.

Yet, it was a necessary step in making this event feasible.

“We were trying not overwhelm ourselves,” said Worley, who was drafted into service even though he’s the newest coach in the area. “There was no real easy way to do it.”

Beginning Tuesday, when the 27th rendition of the tournament commences, the details will likely be overlooked by most. Tournament founder Elton Brunty, Morris and the “board of directors” - a fancy term he uses for the 10 local coaches from Horry and Georgetown County whose fields host games - have put countless hours into pulling off what has become the largest tournament field in event history.

The 90 varsity teams (42 in the Division I bracket and 48 in the Division II), along with six junior varsity teams this week and the 28 squads who played in the Mingo Bay’s opening session last week will comprise one of the largest high school baseball tournaments in the nation this spring.

Only the famed San Diego Lions field is bigger. That tournament, which was established in 1951, stretched to 144 teams last week. Its schools spanned eight divisions. However, that tournament is made up mostly of teams from in and around southern California.

With Mingo Bay, teams from 12 states and one Canadian province will be competing on area fields. They’ll be vying for the two championships, with lesser awards going to some who don’t qualify for the top spots following pool play.

Morris and Co. will work long into most nights figuring out logistical kinks that come up along the way. After Thursday, they’ll add re-seeding and re-siting teams for the various semifinals and finals to their list of responsibilities. That’s nothing new.

Making Mingo go has been a system of trial and error stretching back nearly three decades and two name changes. Given the sheer size this time around, 2018 is no different.

“We’ve been running between 60-72 teams per year, which is a pretty comfortable number,” Morris said of the biggest week during past several years. “Because spring break is where it is, so much of the country has the same one, we were up to 72 teams within a month and a half [of the sign-up period].”

Consistency and name recognition has forced Mingo Bay to continue to grow. In 2016 an 2017, for instance, teams from New York had a week of Mingo Bay exclusively for them. Fifteen of the 90 varsity teams playing this week will be first-timers. Overall, Morris estimates his data-heavy rolodex of schools is now 400 deep.

There aren’t invitations, per se, and when it became clear that the previous goal for this year was going to be reached, he asked the coaches if they were ready to add more of their slate.

The resounding answer was “yes.”

In their mind, the more baseball, the better. It’s a chance to get ready to play teams the local coaches don’t know much about in a short period of time, something that can be a reward when it comes to the quick turnarounds of the playoffs.

If Mingo didn’t exist, several coaches said they’d find another tournament or create one of their own to take advantage of the opportunity for their players to concentrate on the game without the rigors of school work.

But the most noticeable benefit to Mingo Bay isn’t about players suiting up.

It’s about money.

FUNDING A PROGRAM

Mingo Bay Baseball Classic isn’t simply a catchy name for the tournament. It’s also the title of a federally registered charitable organization first established in 1999.

In 2016 - the most recent year in which the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office published figures for the event - the tournament brought in $134,386. That year, there were 102 teams spread across three weeks of competition.

With 22 additional entrants this year, the figure is expected to be at least 10-15 percent higher. Team entry fees and fan admission account for the bulk of intake, with some sponsorship to boot. That six-figure number doesn’t account for the concessions (each school is responsible for that on its own).

However, an increase in teams means an increase in costs.

Each participating team is given approximately 20 T-shirts. The 10 host sites are provided Turface, the compound used to repair and prevent wear-and-tear damage to the dirt portion of the playing surface. Those 10 schools also divvy up what has added up to be about $21,000 worth of baseballs to accommodate all games played on those home fields. The balls are recycled into those schools’ practice ball allotment for the remainder of the year; the leftover Turface is then given to the schools.

Admission figures from the actual Mingo Bay games are split up and pro-rated based on how many games were played on each field. This year, Morris estimates schools can expect to earn between $7,500-$13,000, depending on how well the visiting teams travel.

“It’s one of our biggest fundraisers,” Aynor coach Chad Sarvis said. “But it benefits from both sides. Instead of us being out there trying to sell magazines or raffle tickets, you get an opportunity to play, too.”

In the end, the value to the 10 host schools, between the immediate economic boost and the additional product leftovers, is invaluable to funding a program. Take Worley’s Carolina Forest team, for instance.

The Panthers’ own preseason tournament and two slightly smaller fundraisers net a decent take, but the expected check to the school from Mingo Bay will be higher, according to Athletics Director Tripp Satterwhite. Athletics directors or coaches from Socastee, Conway and Myrtle Beach also said Mingo Bay dividends will be those respective schools’ largest fundraiser this year. St. James’ only bigger event is its annual Dirtbag Bash each fall.

It’s the payoff for two weeks of tail-busting to keep the field in top shape before, during and after as many as 30 games in a 12-day window.

Realistically, the figures could be even higher if the schools wanted to push every button available. Currently, players, parents, school administrators and fans have all joined forces to work on fields; still, games traditionally aren’t played deep into each evening and not every field is used during the week in which local teams aren’t playing.

The tournament is also, for the most part, not going after teams from the Midwest or Pacific states. Expansion, however, is being discussed. Morris said five weeks of Mingo Bay games is not feasible. Just the same, the event could be bigger.

“We’d like to network and bring some of those teams in here to give it more of a true national tournament,” Morris said. “I’m not about numbers. That’s why, at the end of this tournament, we need to sit down with the coaches. What’s our vision? Is it about just making a lot of money? Or is is about bringing in quality teams? What do we want to do moving forward?”

ALL ABOUT THE WEATHER

Lyall Foran’s baseball team woke up on Sunday with a full travel schedule ahead of it.

Following a three-hour drive from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Calgary, there was a four-hour flight to Toronto. After a layover there, it was another two hours on a second plane to Charlotte, followed by another layover and another hour on board a third plane to Myrtle Beach.

Medicine Hat is the first Canadian team to participate in Mingo Bay’s 27 years. And while the Mavericks recently spent $4.5 million (approximately $3.49 million U.S.) on facility upgrades that included a new gymnasium and indoor batting cages, the opportunity to play outside in early April was another added bonus of the monetary and time commitment to come to Myrtle Beach for a week.

“Our goal is to give kids a neat experience and something that they’re going to be able to look back on, some memories that they’re going to be able to cherish,” said Foran, who played college baseball at three different schools in the Southeastern United States. “One aspect of it is we don’t have a ton of exposure to college recruiters where we’re at.”

Tournament organizers had to work with the National Federation of State High School Associations to get Medicine Hate certified to play in the event. The process took weeks, and it was all done on a flyer.

That’s because not only for Foran’s squad - but every team playing in Mingo Bay - the whole thing taking place at the discretion of Mother Nature. Unlike the massive volleyball tournaments that take place indoors in Myrtle Beach annually, a hefty storm is potential for disaster.

A day of rain early in the week can scrub a round of pool play and add a few headaches for organizers. Two or more days of rain becomes a major hassle and a potential black eye that starts messing with the goodwill of the tournament.

The bigger the event gets, the more risk, especially with it squeezed into a tighter window.

“It’s kind of unchartered territory for us,” Morris said. “From an administrative point of view, all the work is done. But if we get rain, we have no room for error. We just kind of pray for good weather right now.”

Several area coaches also mentioned weather in the past several weeks in regards to gearing up for Mingo Bay. They can prepare all they like, but washed out games and the resulting low attendance change even the best-laid plans.

Still, the potential for this year’s tournament is as high as ever. Should the weather cooperate, leaving visiting and local teams a chance to do their thing, Mingo Bay could further extend its place in the national landscape.

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