Several hundred softball players of all skill levels will descend on Denison’s T-Bar Fields this weekend for the city’s annual Snowball Classic softball tournament. The event, now in its 36th year, serves as the unofficial start of the spring softball season and one of the city’s major sports events of the year.

City officials said the weather for the tournament is forecasted to be clear, but the tournament has been known for continuing through poor weather ranging from rain, fog and snow to freezing temperatures.

“Temperature-wise it looks to be real nice,” Denison Recreation Program Manager Andrew Means said Wednesday. “I was seeing forecasts for 60 degrees Saturday and close to 70 on Sunday. That’s really good for softball, knock on wood.”

Over the years, Means said the event has been delayed by poor weather, but it typically will be continue regardless of the weather. The tournament saw a nearly nine-hour delay in 2018 due to early morning storms, but the tournament was still completed by Sunday evening.

“One year, we had to postpone several games because there was so much fog that you couldn’t see the ball,” he said.

The tournament will be based on double elimination, with teams playing as many as 12 games or more in order to be crowned champion. With the tight schedule, games will be run throughout the day and late-night hours. Teams that remain in the winner’s bracket will benefit from having less games at odd hours, Means said.

This year’s bracket will feature 62 teams, including 37 men’s division teams and 25 mixed teams featuring both men and women. Despite opening up the tournament to two additional teams this year, Means said he still has 12 other teams that are on a waiting list for a spot.

“It is such a unique tournament because, number one, it is a non-sanctioned event, so no one member is tied to a specific team,” Means said. “This makes it a good time for everyone to catch up with their buddies and friends that they haven’t played with in a long time.”

This will allow teams to be made up of members of all skill levels ranging from novices to conference level players who normally would not be allowed to play together in sanctioned play.

Means said the majority of the players are from Texas and Oklahoma, with several teams based out of Texoma. However, some individual players are travelling from all across the country to compete, he said.

The men’s tournament also has no limit on the number of home runs that can be scored, which can allow for high-scoring games.

“We’ve seen some scores that got up into 40s and some that, due to run rules, have only had two innings played because there was so much scoring,” he said.

Outside of the tournament rules, Means said the tournament has developed an almost festive feel over the years where players will often camp out on the park grounds for the weekend and simply enjoy the chance to catch up with friends from across the country.

For the city, the tournament is a major economic boon due to the tourism effect on area businesses. With about 12 to 15 players on a team, Means estimated that about 1,000 players, excluding families, will come to Denison over the weekend for the tournament. These visitors will stay in area hotels, visit area attractions and eat in Texoma restaurants during their three days here, Means said.

For area hotels, the tournament comes during what is historically a slow time for hotels.

“The beauty of the Snowball tournament is that Superbowl Sunday is typically slow for hotels, so this tournament certainly helps our occupancy,” Chris Jennings, director of sales for Denison’s Hilton Garden Inn and Texoma Event Center, said Thursday.

Jennings said that the hotel is currently about 50 percent booked for the weekend, but typically the snowball tournament does bring in same-day booking.

The tournament is slated to start at 7 p.m. Friday night with the annual home run derby. The first games of the tournament are slated to start at 9 p.m. with play expected to finish some time Sunday evening.