VALPARAISO | Allison Gatz was all smiles as she clutched a plaque and bouquet of flowers at opening ceremonies for the National Softball Association Girls Fast Pitch World Series.
The 12-year-old Valparaiso girl had just been named Miss NSA in front of thousands of softball players and their families who gathered Monday in Central Park Plaza.
Gatz, who plays first base for the Valparaiso Triple Crown Threat, won the award in her age category. It honors scholastic, athletic and civic achievement.
In addition to playing softball, Gatz is an accomplished gymnast, volunteers at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and is an honors student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
She is the daughter of Jeff and Gretchen Gatz. Her little sister, Megan, 9, plays for the Porter County Panthers, who are also in the Fast Pitch World Series.
"I think it's a good experience," Allison Gatz said. "I'll remember it forever."
The Gatz sisters are among 3,000 athletes, ages 8 to 18, participating in the softball tournament at locations throughout Porter, Lake and LaPorte counties.
Games begin today in Highland, St. John, Valparaiso, LaPorte, Michigan City, Crown Point, Portage and Merrillville.
A total of 243 teams come from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New York and Tennessee, said Kathie Horton, National Softball Association World Series director.
Prior to the opening ceremonies, softball players walked a parade route that stepped off from Central School and ended at Central Park Plaza.
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas welcomed the crowd to the park, which was filled with food and merchandise vendors and activities such as rock climbing, a bean bag toss, a water dunk tank and a bounce house.
"This gives the girls a chance to relax before they start the games, have some camaraderie with teams outside their area and just have fun," Horton said.
For more information about the NSA Girls Fast Pitch World Series, visit www.nsafastpitchworldseries.com and click on the Northwest Indiana link.