More than 110 teams from 20 states will converge on Lee County in March for the 23rd annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic, a three-week softball and baseball tournament for Division III schools.
Spectators can watch for free at five locations in Fort Myers and Cape Coral from March 2 through March 24. The event, coordinated by Lee County Parks & Recreation, offers an alternative to Major League Baseball Spring Training.
"The weather is good, the level of play is outstanding, and many tourists, snowbirds and residents can find their alma mater from up north on our schedule of play," said Ludie Adorno, athletics coordinator for Lee County Parks & Recreation.
Collegiate baseball will be played in Fort Myers at two locations: Terry Park, 3410 Palm Beach Blvd., and the Lee County Player Development Complex, 4301 Edison Ave. Collegiate softball will utilize at three locations: Cape Coral Northwest Complex, 1030 NW 16th Place; Cape Coral Sports Complex, 1500 Sports Blvd.; and in Fort Myers at the Lee County Sports Complex, 14100 Ben C. Pratt/Six Mile Cypress Parkway.
An estimated 500 games will be played.
Teams primarily come from the Midwest and Northeast. Notables include those from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Johns Hopkins University, Wheaton College and the College of Wooster.
The tournament is named for Gene Cusic of Aurora, Ill., who was a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent and administrator in Illinois schools. He also taught a year in Lima, Peru, and served as principal of the Oxford Summer School for the American Institute for Foreign Study.
Cusic retired to Fort Myers in 1988 and joined the Lee County Parks & Recreation staff as the athletic program manager. He established the Collegiate Classic in 1990 with only 11 teams.
The event took off and at one point, the Cusic Classic boasted 300 teams of men's baseball and women's fast-pitch softball. It became so popular that as many teams that signed up were also turned away.
Cusic died in 1995, but the event remains a mainstay on Lee County sports calendars. It annually draws about 6,000 hotel room nights and $3.8 million in direct visitor spending.
"The Cusic Collegiate Classic is an event that offers men's and women's NCAA and NAIA baseball and softball teams an opportunity to participate in regular season games during their respective spring breaks from their cold weather-climates," said Jesse Lavender, athletics coordinator for Lee County Parks & Recreation.
"Each year, the Cusic draws return visits from former players who come back to Fort Myers to vacation or watch their alma maters play."
For complete schedule and other information, visit www.leeparks.org/cusic