Hanahan Invitational Tournament action to kick off April 15
What do Strom Thurmond, the Kremlin and Bill Steadman have in common?
More than you might think.
Thurmond, the late U.S. Senator from the Palmetto State, members of the Russian government, and Steadman, a former head coach of the Hanahan High School baseball team, worked in unison to get the fledgling Russian Army Sports Club baseball team to the United States in 1994 to compete in the Hanahan Invitational Tournament, which had a growing reputation as one of the top high school tournaments on the East Coast.
Like everything else in Russia in 1994, it was complicated. Because of U.S. regulations, the Russian team could fly into only two American cities: Miami and Washington, D.C.
The Russians opted for Washington and HIT officials ventured north to Dulles International Airport to greet their Russian visitors. The team had been in existence for only about five years and what it lacked in experience, it made up in age advantage. The players ranged in age from 18 to 26 and the team also played scrimmages against college teams during their visit to the Lowcountry.
The “Russians are Coming” will be just one of many stories shared next week at eight area high school baseball fields as the HIT celebrates its 50th birthday. The week commences with the home run derby at Hanahan’s Sportsman Field on April 14 and concludes with the two championship games, which are slated for April 18.
While the 1994 HIT tournament, with the Russians in the field, didn’t make national headlines, a particular game in 1988 did – in a unique way. The Hawks sent a young pitcher to the mound in the HIT tournament to face a Stratford team that featured a potent offense that averaged 14 runs a game. The stands were packed with fans and numerous Major League scouts, who were there to check out the talent. Steadman warned the scouts that his pitcher might struggle against an overwhelming offense. The pitcher lost to the Knights, but the next day, America learned more details of the game from dynamic and syndicated radio personality Paul Harvey.
“Hanahan, South Carolina: Bryce Florie pitched a no-hitter and lost,” Harvey told his nationwide audience.
Florie, who today is an assistant coach for Hanahan, hadn’t allowed an earned run all season going into HIT. He remembers the event well.
“I just think HIT was a big deal,” Florie said. “We didn’t have travel ball back then and you really didn’t see the teams unless it was as all-stars. We didn’t like the teams and we just wanted to be the best team in the city.”
Florie is one of many of local players who have competed in the HIT and were either first-round picks or went on to play in the Majors. Other players included Gorman Thomas (James Island), Mike Cook (St. Andrews), Drew Meyer (Bishop England), Reese Havens (Bishop England), John Cornely (Bishop England), Matt Wieters (Stratford), Justin Smoak (Stratford), Skylar Hunter (Hanahan), Drew Cisco (Wando), Mike Cisco (Wando), Nick Ciuffo (Wando), and Chris McGuiness (James Island).
The tournament was the brainchild of former Hanahan coach Tom Hatfield. He grew the tournament to eight teams, and Steadman replaced him as coach and grew the tournament to one of the largest prep tournaments on the East Coast with a field of 32 teams. Today, the tournament is divided into two brackets, the Hatfield and Steadman Divisions to honor the men’s outstanding contributions to the tourney.
Brian Mitchell was named coach of the Hawks in 2003 and helped the HIT navigate two unimaginable events.
The first was 9/11, which occurred in 2001. After the horrific event, high schools were very hesitant to put their student-athletes on jets to compete in events which required travel to distant events.
The other was the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. The recession forced Mitchell and the school to trim the tournament from a week-long event into a four-day event.
The tournament will feature 38 varsity teams and a junior varsity tourney will also take place.
“It starts with the local teams,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had great support from the area programs to give it that local flavor. We still have the out-of-state teams compete to see how we stack up.”