Australia-Bound: UAPB’s Leigh to compete down under this summer

Arkansas-Pine Bluff senior Heather Leigh is part of a select group of softball players from all NCAA and NAIA divisions.

The group will spend 13 days touring and playing in Australia as members of the USA Athletes International team. The group will compete in the Down Under Cup Challenge, July 21-Aug. 2 at the Olympic softball venue in Sydney.

For Leigh, a pitcher from Northridge, Calif., this is her first time competing on an international team. She’s played at UAPB her entire collegiate career.

“It’s very exciting,” the criminal justice major said. “I thought softball would be over after this season because I’m a senior, but so many doors are opening with this trip.”

Leigh and her teammates were recommended to the team by coaches of their own and those of opposing teams. The coaches then contacted Darrell Phipps, USAAI program coordinator for softball and office manager, about their nominations. The players are recommended based on athletic ability, depth of character, leadership ability and scholastic efforts.

“There are two things we look for in a player: one is that, obviously, she has to be able to play the game, and two, she’s a good person,” Phipps said.

USA Athletes International, founded in 1992, is a non-profit organization which gives amateur athletes and coaches the opportunity to participate in international Olympic-style sporting events and broaden their educational and cultural knowledge of the world through the experience, according to its website. The Down Under Cup Challenge will comprise the first part of the softball team’s trip to Australia, with the second part consisting of educational tours.

“It’s a chance to represent their country and play the game they love,” Phipps said. “From talking to everyone on the team, they’re chomping at the bit to play in Australia.”

Donations to help with the USAAI team’s travel expenses are accepted and tax-deductible. Anyone interested in donating is asked to call Phipps at 913-397-9024.