TENNESSEE DIAMONDS ANNOUNCED AS NEWEST NPF FRANCHISE
NASHVILLE – The National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League announced today that a new professional women’s softball team, the Tennessee Diamonds, has been franchised and will begin play in 2010 in Blount County, Tenn. The Diamonds join the NPF as the first team from Tennessee but the second team in as many months from the southern region of the United States. Last month the USSSA Florida Pride became an official franchisee, making an NPF Team home in Kissimmee, Florida.
The Tennessee Diamonds will have first rights to the 2009 NPF Championship Series Champions Rockford Thunder Player roster. Rockford ownership failed to maintain NPF Team requirements to field a Team for the 2010 Season. The Rockford Thunder roster includes Championship Series MVP and fastpitch softball celebrity, Cat Osterman. In 2009, the Thunder finished third in overall League standings before capturing the Championship Series title in Akron, Ohio.
“This is an exciting announcement for National Pro Fastpitch,” said Cheri Kempf, Commissioner of the National Pro Fastpitch League. “Tennessee is a fantastic location for this new team. The addition of the Diamonds adds an expansion team geographically in a great southern spot for the League — and the fact that it is located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains will offer fans additional entertainment options while taking in a Diamonds game.”
“East Tennessee is known throughout the country for its support of women’s athletics through the Lady Vols and, of course, the legendary Pat Summitt. Ralph and Karen Weekly and their Lady Vol Team introduced successful softball to the area and in turn, the fan-base has grown for the sport. This will be a great home for the Diamonds.”
Sarah Fekete, a former University of Tennessee softball standout who later played professionally for the Philadelphia Force, will be the General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds. Fekete, a native of Maryville, was instrumental in the tremendous 2006 Tennessee Lady Vols softball season. A Lady Vol softball center-fielder, she was named a 2006 NFCA First-Team All-American and led the nation in hitting with a staggering .500 (110-of-220) batting average. Fekete was selected as the 2006 Lady Vol Athlete of the Year and was nominated for the SEC Female Athlete of the Year.
During 2006, Fekete set a new SEC record for single-season hits (110) and completed her career as the all-time Tennessee leader in batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases, while finishing second in all-time runs scored and hits. She went on to play for the NPF’s Philadelphia Force professional softball team for three seasons and in 2009 was named to ESPN’s “All-Decade Softball Team.”
“Bringing professional softball to my home town is amazing,” Fekete said. “Most people don’t realize that there are more young women playing softball in this country than there are young men who play Little League Baseball. It’s a fantastic sport and it does great things for young athletes – having the Diamonds based here will do wonders for the sport and for local players and fans. It truly is a family-oriented, fan-based sport and a perfect fit for East Tennessee.”
The Tennessee Diamonds franchise agreement with the National Pro Fastpitch League was finalized on Dec. 29, 2009. The team may have a permanent home in the Ripken baseball and softball complex, but will play its first season at a temporary facility in Blount County.
National Pro Fastpitch will begin the 2010 season in June with the culmination of the season, the League’s Championship Series taking place August 26-29th. The 2010 Championship Series will be held in Sulphur, Louisiana.
When NPF officials first disclosed to SPY that it would be awarding a franchise in Tennessee, we had hoped that meant an actual expansion of professional softball. Instead, it succeeds Rockford. More, NPF officials were not optimistic about New England resuming play. With the Diamonds, Philadelphia Force, Chicago Bandits, Florida Pride and Akron, NPF continues to have five teams.