- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - “Congratulations, and let’s play ball,” was the cry out of left field as the marriage ceremony uniting Eric Childers and Briget Pike concluded on softball field No. 1 at Dillon Park during the Sumter First Church of God Palmetto Softball Tournament.

While many might consider a softball field an odd place to tie the knot, it seemed natural for the newlyweds from Rock Hill.

“They had been dating when they came (to the tournament) last year, kind of unofficially,” said tournament organizer Becky Fort. “They kind of solidified that bond last year, and they decided they wanted to get married at the ball tournament because this is where it all happened.”

Fort said she met her husband, Rob, at a past tournament.

Officiating the ceremony on a recent Saturday was Pastor Greg Bentley of Christ Fellowship Church in Rock Hill, who said he has known the couple for several years.

“The softball tournament is kind of dear to their heart,” he said before the ceremony. “Their previous spouses have passed away, and so this will be a special time for them to get together and spend the rest of their lives together.”

As he officiated the wedding from under an arch at home plate, Bentley spoke about the commitment of marriage being a new beginning and how the couple have formed a new team.

“You will always accomplish more working together as a team,” he said, casting a chastening glance at his Rock Hill Christ Fellowship softball team.

The Rock Hill team members, dressed in black tuxedo T-shirts for the occasion, seemed to get the point.

When the marriage vows were finished, the pastor turned the couple to the assembled crowd and said, “I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Eric Childers,” to a rousing cheer.

The softball tournament, Fort said, is now in its 13th year and has attracted teams from across the Southeast and beyond.

“We have 16 teams here; the farthest north is a team from Ohio. We have teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida,” Fort said.

“We hold this tournament foremost to win souls over to Christ,” she said. “That’s our goal. Softball is a very safe environment, so we have teams come in, and we actually ask them to bring a couple of people from their congregation or from outside who don’t know the love of Christ.”

After a big dinner gathering on Friday night, Fort said the teams play round-robin matches on Saturday before being placed in three divisions for the tournament.

“We have a division named for Bob Sharp, who built our church; the King Division, named for Leon King, a patriarch at our church; and the Bower Division named for our current pastor, Ron Bower,” she said.

The divisions are determined by skill level and past performance, she said.

“We have a big worship service Sunday morning at 9 a.m.,” Fort said. “All the teams come and worship and praise God.”

Bentley will be the guest speaker at the service, she said.


Information from: The Sumter Item, https://www.theitem.com

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