That has changed with the formation of the Smokey Mountain NET Elite Collegiate League.
The league grew from a combined brain trust of Carson-Newman baseball coach Tom Griffin, Walters State recruiting coordinator and Atlanta Braves associate scout Dan Skirka and NET Elite Baseball founder and owner Wesley Jones.
Jones’ NET Elite has been hosting youth baseball tournaments for all ages for several years in the East Tennessee area. But there was no place for collegiate players to play in the summer without traveling to other regions of the country.
“There were no college leagues in Tennessee nor Kentucky nor in Southwest Virginia,” said Jones, also the league’s commissioner. “We give them an opportunity to play in a league during the summer.”
In its first year, the league has four teams with about 100 total players who play at colleges in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.
“We have kids playing that are from anywhere from Nashville to Asheville,” Jones said.
Several of the players are from Carson-Newman and Walters State. Others come from about 20 schools, among them Tennessee, East Tennessee State, King, Tennessee Tech, Lee University and Virginia-Wise.
UT pitcher Will Heflin headlines the Jefferson County roster, while ETSU sophomore third baseman Cade Gilbert — who was named to Southern Conference all-tournament team — is a key player for the Catholic team.
Sevier County and Seymour teams currently complete the league, which will likely grow to six teams next year, according to Jones.
The league has played games for three weeks and will continue until the fourth week in July. The season is scheduled to culminate with a championship game at the Double-A Tennessee Smokies ballpark in Sevierville.
Though most of the league’s games are played in the Knoxville and Sevierville areas, a few are scheduled to be played in Johnson City at Cardinal Park, Jones said.
To learn more about the league, visit the NET Elite website.