Forest Acres Classic, a victory for everyone
The seventh annual Forest Acres Classic, an annual high school baseball tournament hosted by A.C. Flora High School and the City of Forest Acres, kicked off Monday, April 4 with a banquet in the Flora gymnasium.
Eight S. C. teams— A.C. Flora Falcons, Camden Bulldogs, White Knoll Timberwolves, Laurens Raiders, Lugoff–Elgin Demons, Dreher Blue Devils, Spring Valley Vikings, and Mid–Carolina Rebels— have played a round– robin format all week at Flora Field. Teams will play for final standings in a series of games on Friday at 11 AM, 2 PM, 5 PM and 8 PM.
“ The biggest thing when we started was we had to get our name out there as the face of it—that this is who we are and who is putting on the event,” said Flora baseball skipper Andy Hallett, who has been at Flora since 1998. “ We were real fortunate coming right out of the gate to be able to get some teams from North Carolina who had potential first round draft picks.”
According to Hallett, the vision was to bring in the best teams from the state and around the country. College and major league scouts are frequent visitors during the tournament. The ideal situation is to get everybody together when all the schools are on spring break, but with five different weeks of spring break in S.C., the logistics get a little tricky.
“I probably had 20 teams that wanted to come from California, Maryland, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and others, but we did not match up (on spring breaks), so we had to pass until next year,” Hallett said. “ We really want to showcase our state, but we want to showcase the best teams in the southeast and across the country in our event.”
The event has showcased some of the finest high school baseball in the state this week. Flora regularly goes to the playoffs as region and state title contenders. Laurens won consecutive region titles from 2007– 2009. Lugoff– Elgin won the state 3A title last year before moving to 4A this year. Mid–Carolina is coming off a 23–5 record in 2010 and made the upper state finals last year. Spring Valley was undefeated in Region 4–4A last year, and the White Knoll Timberwolves are the defending state 4A champions.
Beyond showcasing the best high school talent in the state, Hallett sees bigger benefits for the players and teams involved.
“If you think you are a college baseball candidate, this tournament shows you if you can go four days in a row,” the coach says. “If you play in college, you are going Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Something like this will let you know if you have what it takes to be a college baseball player—how to occupy your time, understand you have to get your sleep, and how to take care of your body. It gives you greater respect for those guys on TV who do it 162 teams a year. What we feel like after four days in a row, they are doing it for seven months. It is a great experience for the kids. They have to have a stronger mental fortitude to bounce back when things don’t go their way. There is no practice time, and there is no time to fix it. I love it. It is a great mental challenge. It is a challenge physically. It shows me what we are made of mentally and physically as a group. We have won this event a couple of times, and we have lost it a couple of times.”
Hallett says the support from the city is a huge boost to the school and the tournament.
“When I came here 13 years ago,” Hallett said, “we put together a pretty good product pretty quickly and the community said, ‘You know what, we are baseball fans.’ They love to come out and support our program and support our kids. When we got that going, we got involved with the City of Forest Acres to put this event together. It is just a fabulous event for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it showcases the city, the high school, and the community.
“We have a real love in this community between the city and the school that a lot of cities and communities do not feel. But we have that in the City of Forest Acres. I tell my friends I love it here. This is the greatest place to live. It has been a great boost to have this city get behind us the way they have financially and personally to run this event.”
The school district recently completed massive remodeling projects of schools throughout the city and the entire landscape of Flora has changed from first– rate academics to quality athletic facilities. Better facilities and more spirit go together at A.C. Flora High School.
“No doubt about it,” Hallett says. “ When you drive up to a construction site for as many years as we have, and you start to think you live in a construction zone. ‘Hey did you roll your windows up?’ Because if you don’t, you have a half a pound of dirt in your car. When the bricks went up, and we got some sod down out there, it was like running the marathon, and we finally got over the hill and raced down it, and we have this wonderful place we are so proud of.”