If you had trouble booking a hotel room or getting into a restaurant along the Front Range in recent days, blame fast-pitch softball.

This week, more than 18,000 girls, their coaches and families are in the region for the annual Colorado 4th of July fast-pitch softball tournament.

It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the country and one of the largest stages for those hoping to earn a college scholarship. Games are played on diamonds from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and most cities in between, and the teams will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars while visiting, said Stephanie Klaviter, the tournament director for Triple Crown Sports.

The tournament has risen in popularity as the sport of softball has grown on college campuses and as its national exposure on ESPN has increased, Klaviter said. This year, the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City average just over 1 million viewers per telecast and the semifinals set an attendance record with almost 13,000 fans in the stadium.

First and foremost, the Colorado 4th of July tournament is a college recruiting event.

“They put so much pressure on themselves when they come here,” Klaviter said of the players. “The priority for them coming out here is a chance to make their dreams come true.”

Khila Estrada, 15, and her mother, Kacey Estrada, drove to Colorado from Lake Elsinore, California, to play ball with her travel team, The Lady Dukes. Khila wants to play college softball.

“It’s probably the biggest tournament for college scouts,” Kacey Estrada said. “We’ve got to start being seen.”

This year, coaches from 500 universities are in town to watch the games, which started June 24 and run through Sunday. The tournament also hosts games for American-born softball players who qualify to play on Olympic teams for the countries where their parents are born, as well as an all-star game featuring the best players from women’s college softball and various other softball-related clinics and activities.

The games consume 150 fields at 40 ballparks in Colorado Springs, Denver, Aurora, Arvada, Westminster, Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley. Players, families and coaches use about 10,000 hotel rooms per night during tournament week, Klaviter said.

The tournament is scheduled so that every team has a day off to explore Colorado and most nights are open so players and their families can catch a Colorado Rockies game or hold team dinners. On days when they don’t play, teams of girls go hiking or whitewater rafting in the mountains, she said.

When Triple Crown Sports representatives talk with local merchants about the tournament’s impact, they hear about stores sold out of water and Gatorade. Parents head to Walmarts, Targets and grocery stores to buy chairs, coolers and tents, often leaving those things behind when the tournament is over, Klaviter said.

“They can’t keep water on the shelves,” she said.

Visit Aurora, which promotes tourism in the city, estimates the 2022 tournament will generate more than $12.5 million in economic impact with players, coaches and their families occupying 20,347 hotel-room nights in the city, according to a study the tourism office conducted.

For many families, summer vacations center around the tournament. Teams submit bids to attend in the fall and spend the rest of the year raising money to travel from across the United States and Canada.

And most of it flies under the radar of locals.

“A lot of people don’t even know about it,” Klaviter said. “They just know their hotel rooms are taken and their restaurants are packed.”

On the day the Dukes didn’t play, the team went to Castle Rock to try out the Epic Sky Trek’s four-story aerial trekking course, Kacey Estrada said. The players, coaches, parents and siblings who traveled to Colorado for the tournament gave it a try.

The week-long trip is costing the Estradas at least $2,000. That includes gas, more than eight nights in a hotel, food, souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses, Estrada said.

“What this brings to your town — the money, the publicity, the players — it’s a big deal,” she said. “It brings it all.”

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