Roger Jones Klassic

In April, Osceola High School renamed its annual softball tournament. It is now the Roger Jones Kissimmee Klassic. Jones, the tournament co-founder and an advocate for high school athletes around the state, passed away in September.

Coffey's last Klassic; first one without its namesake begins Thursday afternoon

This weekend’s Roger Jones Kissimmee Klassic will be notable for a number of reasons.

It is potentially the final one held at the Osceola County Softball Complex, as the county looks to sell that valuable land and build a new complex on the western end of the county.

It will be the last as a coach for Osceola’s George Coffey, one of the softball tournament’s founders, as he wraps up his quarter-decade run as the Kowboys coach. He has said he will retire at the end of the season.

And there is a first — a sad one. This is the first installment of the tournament, which began in 1993, without its namesake. Jones passed away last fall after a second battle with skin cancer, but not before Coffey, his team and the annual cast of volunteers honored Jones, who helped assemble the top-notch field annually and served as PR director for those teams and the field, by henceforth naming it in his honor.

Thankfully, Jones was alive, well and present when the honor was bestowed during the 2018 tournament, though it rattled the Kowboys, for who Jones’ niece played for last year, and the team went 1-2 in the tournament.

Coffey did more of the “heavy lifting” necessary to get the 2019 Roger Jones Klassic ready for action.

“Roger had all his team reports on his computer when he passed, and by the time I was able to get into it, it was late in the going,” he said. “The tough part was telling some teams we didn’t have room for them this year.”

That resulted in 16-team Blue and Gold brackets that are as stacked and tough as they’ve ever been in the Klassic, leading to some great matchups right out of the game as the tournament begins Thursday at 2 p.m. with a Gold Bracket matchup of Lecanto and Eau Gallie and then a whole slate of games at 4 p.m. across the softball complex’s five fields.

“It’s a great field, and we’re going to get great Thursday games because of it,” Coffey said. “There are no easy first-round games, and the winners will definitely earn their titles.”

In the high-powered Blue Division, Coffey showed his sense of humor where Orange Park Oakleaf and Lake Region, last year’s Blue and Gold division champions, will play each other at 7:30.

“Last year Lake Region wanted to be in the Blue but we didn’t have room,” Coffey said. “I told them this year, ‘Watch what you wish for.’”

The rest of that bracket includes St. Cloud, 9-1-1 heading into this weekend’s Bartow Tournament of Champions, who plays Tampa Alonso Thursday at 7:30.

SC SB Morgan Watral

From last year's Klassic, St. Cloud infielder Morgan Watral attempts to tag out a Stoneman Douglas baserunner. Both are back in the Klassic field.

“The team’s doing well. We feel like we should be undefeated but we made some first-inning errors (in a loss to Lake Wales) that opened the girls eyes as to how fast it can get away from you,” Bulldogs Coach Ray Whobrey said. “We’re going to use Bartow, where we hope to see Winter Springs and Bartow (teams in St. Cloud’s FHSAA region), to prepare for the Klassic, which will also have some really tough teams. “The schedule sets us up for the playoff run down the line.”

The Bulldogs picked up a 6-1 District 8A-10 win Wednesday over Windermere. Lindsey Burns had two hits and two RBIs and pitcher Alyssa O’Donnell struck out eight.

The Blue Bracket also includes top-caliber stalwart programs like Pembroke Pines Charter, Davie University, St. Thomas Aquinas and Bartow.

Osceola (11-4), coming off a solid 3-0 showing in last weekend’s Miami SlamFest, opens Gold Bracket play Thursday at 7:30 against Okeechobee.

“The goal down there was to grow as a team and family, and we did that in leaps and bounds,” Coffey said, noting the team chose to scrap dinner plans one night, went to Chuck E. Cheese, banded together and earned enough tickets to win a huge doll that became their mascot. “It was a great trip, surpassed what I hoped for.”

He said he wants to see the Kowboys come out of the Klassic with the “production and attitude” necessary to be ready for district and regional tournament play, and hopefully beyond that.

“It’s designed to play the top caliber of teams, and I hope we play well,” Coffey said. “Winning isn’t as important as how we participate.”

The Gold Division also includes perennial postseason teams Frostproof, Lake Howell, Riverview, Gulliver Prep, Cantonment Tate and St. Petersburg Canterbury.