Host families major part of Sunbelt experience

Posted 6/19/18

Team Georgia host moms pose for a photo at the Junior Sunbelt Classic in 2018.

 

Host families major part of Sunbelt Classic experience

Players form life-long bonds and friendships with their host families

 

By Tim Morse

 MCALESTER, Oklahoma -- It’s 11 o’clock and after a late game in the Junior Sunbelt Classic at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Amber Padilla knows what she needs to do the moment she walks into her home.

As a host mom for Team Georgia, Padilla and her husband Steven are hosting two players – Alex Flood and Steven Thompson – in addition to her family of six children.

The first order of business is to make sure the boys are fed, even after a late game.

“We had some leftovers, so we made a quick meal,” Padilla said. “I know those boys were hungry.”

Across town, another first-time host family – Chuck and Tiffani Sutterfield – are washing baseball uniforms for the next day’s game, well after midnight.

After a nasty slide into second base by Brandon Prince, she has to pay special attention to get the dirt stain out of his pants.

But she doesn’t mind the late nights. And neither does Padilla.

It’s part of serving as a host family for the Junior Sunbelt Classic.

Always wanted to host

Host families get no money for their services. But hosting players is a big tradition in the 24 years of the prestigious tournament, which has 11 teams from across eight states and one country (Canada). Host families are tasked with hosting anywhere from two to four players. They provide meals, entertainment, laundry services and shuttle players to and from the games. No players participating in the Sunbelt Classic stay in hotels or with their families.

Staying with host families is part of the Junior Sunbelt Classic experience. Lifelong friendships and bonds are formed.

“They treated me like I was one of their own,” Prince said of the Sutterfields, who have twins of their own, Carsyn and Camron. “They took me in and loved me.”

Padilla said she and her husband had wanted to host for some time, however, she felt her previous house was too small. After purchasing a home, the Padillas were the last family assigned to host Team Georgia players.

After just closing on their home, the furniture had not arrived. The players slept on air mattresses.

“We made the best of it, and the boys were such a joy to have,” Padilla said. “We will definitely be doing it again next year.”

At the Sutterfields home, Prince, Cartersville’s Gage Morris and Columbus High’s Ben Schorr stayed the week. During down time, they shot basketball, played games with her twins and had Nerf Gun wars in the living room.

The players were intrigued by Chuck Sutterfield. A law enforcement officer, he showed them his car and his police dog.

The Sutterfields also took the players to church on Sunday and Tiffani, a third grade teacher in McAlester, said some of the greatest times were sitting around the table and talking about life lessons.

“We had a lot of fun,” she said. “They were amazing, and they were really sweet to my kids.”

Toughest part

While it may seem uncomfortable at first, the players settle in with their host families after a few days. But by the time the final day of the tournament rolls around, host families as well as the players get emotional, knowing it’s time to leave.

Before Team Georgia plays Oklahoma Blue in its final game, the Prince family brings Tiffani a gift, which is a framed photo of the players she hosts as well as a $50 gas card.

“That’s the least we can do,” Mrs. Prince tells Tiffani.

And by the time the game is over, the players shower and board the bus to return home. The tears of good-byes begin to flow.

Host families snap pictures, exchange phone numbers and email addresses and give the players one last hug.

Camden County pitcher Aaron Wainright stayed with Justin and Leanne Plaxico. He said staying with the host families may have been the best part of the trip.

“They provided us with support all the way around,” he said. “It was probably the best baseball experience of my life.”

Moments after Morris and Prince loaded the bus, neither of the Sutterfield twins could hold back the tears. After a near two-hour delay over a malfunctioning air conditioner on the team bus, it leaves the parking lot of the AmericInn hotel with a host of friends waving.

On this night, Tiffani wishes she had uniforms to wash – for at least for one more game anyway.

“That’s my job … to love kids,” she said. “You take them in as your own. What we hoped we did was show them love. It was hard to let them leave, but we just hope they felt loved.”

No doubt they did.

 

 

Top left: Alex Flood and the Padilla children play video games before a baseball game; Top right: Carsyn Sutterfield, Brandon Prince, Camron Sutterfield and Gage Morris pose for a photo after a Nerf Gun war; Bottom left: The Yates family poses for a photo with Connor Bruce and Seb Thomas, the two players they hosted in 2018; Bottom right: Kamden Hutchison sings with the players in the Team Georgia dugout.