Justin Sparkman of Lubbock’s Jake’s Sports Bar nails a pitch against Clovis’ Guys Electric on Saturday Morning at the 22nd Annual Custom Classic tourney in Clovis. Sparkman’s dad Harold helped start the tourney in 1983. (Staff photo: John Eisel)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
When he was a kid growing up in Clovis, Justin Sparkman used to blow a kiss to the fences at the Guy Leeder softball complex to bring his dad luck during ballgames.
Years later, it’s Sparkman’s turn at bat. No longer does he live in Clovis and it’s been awhile since he sent kisses toward the outfield as his father died four years ago.
But the Custom Classic softball tourney in Clovis, which lasts through Sunday afternoon, still holds a special place in Sparkman’s heart. His father, Harold, helped start the Classic — along with Roger Jackson and Jimmy Fluckey — back in 1983.
“I’ve come to it every year, especially since my father passed away, because I feel like I should be here seeing how he helped to start it,” said Justin Sparkman just before his team, Jake’s Sports Bar out of Lubbock, took the field Saturday morning.
Shortly after his fatherdied, Sparkman formed a team with several of his dad’s ex-teammates and won its classification at the Custom Classic.
“Every year, there’s about five or six of us from that same team and we make sure that, although we may not play with each other the rest of the year, we play together for this one tournament,” said Sparkman, 25, who went to high school in Slaton, Texas. “They knew my dad real well and played with him. It’s real enjoyable; it’s a special tournament.
“We have a good time, win or lose. We just come down here, kind of as a tribute to my dad and have fun,” he added.
Sparkman is one of many out-of-towners to hit Clovis for the Custom Classic. Many of the 115 teams entered in the five divisions came from Lubbock, Amarillo and a variety of other cities in West Texas and New Mexico.
Abel Flores’ team, the Scrappers, has been coming to the Custom Classic from Hobbs for 15 of the tournament’s 22-year history.
While many tournaments once existed that were the size of the Custom Classic, according to Flores, this is one of the few left offering a consistently high caliber of competition.
“Back ten years ago or so, we had several tournaments that were this big,” Flores said. “But the Classic — it stayed big.
The main thing is the competition. If you want to play some serious ball, you come to Clovis.”
The only problem Flores had off the field was finding a place for his team to stay. Thanks to the influx of softballers and their families, Flores thought he might have to book his players into a Portales hotel.
“Everything was full, but we finally found something. Economics-wise, it’s got to be terrific (for Clovis),” Flores said.
One of the coaches with JM Sporting Goods of Amarillo, Vern Wilson, said he’s frequents the softball complex during the Custom Classic — even when his team isn’t playing.
“Unlike other tournaments, at this one I find myself, coming back to watch other games, other teams,” Wilson said.
The reason, Wilson offered, has as much to do with the atmosphere surrounding the Custom Classic as it does with the quality of play.
“They give you nice stuff, coupons to go to restaurants, nice bags,” Wilson said. “Good food, good music.”