A handful of new teams will help make up one of the most talented and competitive fields in Hillbilly Hardball Classic history.
The tournament, which is in its 20th year of competition, has the reputation as one of the top American Legion tournaments on the East Coast. According to Elkins general manager Chris George, this year's version could be the best yet.
"This could be one of the best tournaments in Hardball history," said George. "There's a lot of great talent from within the state and out. It's up from grabs and its going to be extremely competitive."
The tournament will feature 32 teams with six teams in five divisions. The tournament's first game is scheduled for Thursday at 11:30 a.m. and the championship game will be played Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Robin Harvey Memorial Field.
In all, there will be a total of 81 baseball games played at six different fields in four days of action. Besides Robin Harvey, games are scheduled at Davis & Elkins College, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Elkins High School and Lewis County High School.
"People around the area really need to come out and see some fantastic baseball," said George. "The weather looks like its going to cooperate so everything is a go."
Four states will be represented at the tournament as Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania will square off against a total of 18 teams from West Virginia. Squads making their first appearance at the tournament include: Pasadena (Md.), Marietta Belpre (OH.), Pickerington (OH.), Streetsboro (OH.), Morgantown Palomino, Fairmont Junior Legion and Berkeley County.
"Out of all the new teams, Pickerington looks really strong," said George. "They have a chance to make it the championship round on Sunday."
George said other teams to watch for include: State College (Pa.), Kanawha Valley, Morgantown and the host team Elkins.
"Every year we put our team (Elkins) in the toughest bracket because we want to see the best competition," said George. "If we come ready to play, we have a good shot to play on Sunday."
Elkins, who is off to a 7-1 start to the season, has never won the tournament championship. Post 29 made it to the championship round in 2005 where it fell to Beckley in the semifinals. Potomac Valley, Buckhannon and Weston are the other area teams competing in the tourney.
With so many players and families visiting the tourney, the economic impact for the area is always a plus for the community.
"All local businesses should benefit from the tourney," said George. "There's going to be a lot of people in our area this weekend."
George also said the tournament wouldn't be possible without the scores of volunteers that are lending a helping hand.
"All the help during the tournament is greatly appreciated," said George. "We have people giving up their own time to help make this tourney work at each field. I couldn't do it without all of their help."