- Associated Press - Monday, July 14, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - The founders of several softball tournaments in Tennessee are playing hardball with their former partners.

J. Alan Walker, Pat Moyer and Matt Green own Fury Fastpitch Academy, a local baseball and softball training complex that founded the Scenic City 16s. The organization’s summer and fall tournaments draw more than 220 teams from around the nation.

The trio is suing former partners Jeremy and Jill Higdon for $900,000, roughly triple the estimated profit from a single tournament, saying the couple stole the company’s contacts and software to create an identical tournament.

The lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Chancery Court on June 18. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported (bit.ly/1wl9WBz) the suit came three days after the Higdons allegedly put on a copycat tournament under the name Connect Sports.

Moyer declined to comment. The Higdons did not respond to email requests for comment.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head softball coach Frank Reed said the tournament is probably the largest in the area and competes with high-profile tournaments in Atlanta in a growing business of “showcase” tournaments used to highlight softball talent outside school seasons for college recruiters.

“It gives coaches a venue to come out and watch athletes from basically all over the country,” Reed said. “It has become quite a big industry.”

The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau sports committee has data showing that softball-related events were expected to bring nearly 21,000 participants to the area in 2014. That’s nearly one-quarter of the total 95,000 participants anticipated here for all such travel for sporting events this year.

Softball events alone pumped an estimated $5.2 million into the local economy. That amounts to 16 percent of the $31 million total economic impact from travel sports, according to the visitors bureau.

This year’s Scenic City Softball tournament, held by Connect Sports, brought an estimated 4,650 people and an estimated $1.3 million impact. When Fury Fastpitch held the same tournament in 2013, the 3,000 people who attended had an estimated impact of $900,000, according to the visitors bureau.

The Fury partners said in court papers that the tournament and academy training has grown year by year since the company’s founding in 2008. The Higdons were one-third partners in Fury and did pitching training, bookkeeping and correspondence with teams for the tournament.

In 2013 the group sought out software to automate the tournament information and began preparing for the 2014 tournament.

But on Dec. 9, 2013, the Higdons notified the other Fury partners that they were dissolving their membership.

Fury partners later learned that the Higdons had established Connect Sports, the lawsuit claims. They used the slogan “Where Athletes Connect with College Coaches” and held their own Scenic City Showcase softball tournament, using the same teams on the same dates and locations as the Scenic City 16s and with only a slightly altered logo.

Attorney Jerrold Farrinash, representing the Higdons, has filed a motion asking for more time to respond to allegations in the complaint. No court date had been set as of late last week.

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