The Evanston Express girls fast-pitch softball program takes a major step this Memorial Day weekend by hosting its first-ever tournament drawing dozens of teams and hundreds of young players from around the Chicago region.

The three-day Evanston Express Memorial Day Classic also will put on display the city’s much-improved softball venues, from the first-rate diamonds at James Park to the new-this-year varsity and junior varsity layouts at Evanston Township High School.

Play begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 22, at James Park between teams aged 12-and-under. The Express 12U plays there at 7:30 p.m. versus the Sauganash Silver Storm, while on an adjacent field the Express 14U opens against Trevian Green.

Round-robin play continues all day Saturday at James, ETHS and Crown Park, with Sunday’s elimination round leading to championship games at 2:15 p.m. at all three locations. Admission is free and a complete schedule is online.

“This was a natural step for our travel softball program,” said Express tournament director Dan Managlia. “We’ve been funding everyone else’s programs all these years. This gives us a chance to raise some money … and our visibility.”

Twenty-five teams in three age brackets paid $400 each to enter this ASA-sanctioned “B” level national qualifying event, with most of the funds paying for umpires and other expenses. Host programs earn extra revenue selling refreshments, tournament T-shirts and other souvenirs – funds that can be used for future training and travel opportunities.

Managlia expressed thanks to the scores of parent-volunteers who signed up to work the fields and the concessions, to the Evanston Baseball & Softball Association, and especially to ETHS athletic director Chris Livatino.

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