CLEARWATER — After playing a series of makeshift games, softball players from all age levels gathered around the pavilion area at Eddie C. Moore complex. They listened attentively as 10 college coaches answered their questions about the recruiting process.
The Q&A session wrapped up a two-day camp in Clearwater put together by the Bombers travel ball organization. There were no exclusions. Players from other organizations could participate as long they paid the $160 registration fee. Members of the Bombers and teams of eight or more players were given a discounted rate.
There was nothing at stake, at least in wins. Players from different travel clubs were put together to form teams comparable in skill levels. What mattered most was college coaches at all levels, from Division I-A to junior college, were there to provide instruction and feedback.
This is the fourth year the Bombers have held a college camp. They do it as a fundraiser for the organization to help pay for entry fees and other expenses at tournaments.
"The hardest thing for a lot of these girls is just getting the recruiting process started," said Bombers 18U coach Pat Affrunti, who has been with the organization for 10 years. "This gives them a good introduction with coaches."
Coaches from Ball State, Chipola College, Lynn, Rollins, Florida Gulf Coast and Wisconsin were among those in attendance. They were each paid $500 and had their air fare and hotel rooms taken care of.
The NCAA allows coaches to conduct camps — and receive compensation — provided that they are open to everyone and fall during the recruiting period.
Affrunti pulled double duty. He also is an assistant at St. Leo.
That dual role is allowed as long as the players on Affrunti's travel team all live within 100 miles of the St. Leo campus, according to Division II rules.
"It certainly helps with the recruiting process for our school because I'm able to see a lot of players," Affrunti said. "But I can't imagine too many coaches doing what I do given how much time is involved trying to do both."
At the camp coaches answered questions about what they look for in a player (fit and personality are key), whether recruiting services matter (they don't) and how much emphasis is put on grade-point averages and standardized test scores (a lot).
Typically, the recruiting process starts with a letter or email to coach. Sending out a ton to colleges in hopes of getting interest usually does not work.
Western Carolina's Jim Clift, who attended the Atlanta Legacy, one of the showcases featured in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, said he receives about 100 emails a day. He deletes nearly all of them.
The ones that get his attention are more personal.
"I want to know that you want to be here," Clift said.
The coaches at the Bombers' camp echoed that sentiment.
Once all the questions were answered, the players flocked toward coaches, resumes and transcripts in hand, all in pursuit of a scholarship. Some coaches will watch the players they are interested in at other tournaments this fall. They will ask others to attend their own camp to have more time to evaluate them as potential recruits.
"It's a start," Affrunti said. "And that's the biggest thing we're trying to get out of it."