QUAPAW — Quapaw senior Liz Flaming is getting to realize a lifelong dream by playing softball at Arkansas State.
The only thing: she isn’t getting an athletic scholarship at the Jonesboro, Arkansas, school.
But it’s not your every day program.
As a member of the National Club Softball Association (NCSA), the Red Wolves have won conference titles the previous four years, qualified for the NCSA World Series in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, finishing in the top eight each year.
Arkansas State is the defending NCSA national champion.
Flaming, who has a 4.0 grade point average, is realizing a lifelong dream of getting to play on the next level.
“I am not ready to stop playing,” she said. “I am really excited. I had been looking for places to play softball. I sent out emails to people here in Oklahoma but haven’t really heard back from a lot of them.
“There was a camp at Arkansas State and we tried out for them. He said I had slot if I wanted it, so that is where I decided to go.”
Flaming is a catcher, but she can also play shortstop, third base, center field and can pitch and catch.
She was the Lady Wildcats’ catcher for much of the 2017 season.
“Just from talking to the coach, he seems like a pretty good guy to be around and that can be something that will be important to Liz: to be around people that will be like family being so far away from home,” Quapaw coach Kae Lani Bryan said. “That is very important, too. The program is based on family and a lot of the core values that we are trying to establish here.”
“I am really excited for her.”
Arkansas State’s other programs compete in the Sun Belt Conference, where 10 of its members have softball on the varsity level.
“Most people don’t really know what it (the NCSA) is,” said coach Keith Hinson. “It actually is a level below an NCAA-sanctioned team.
Hinson anticipates ASU moving the sport up to the varsity level in the next couple of years, but the club level team will continue.
He said 124 schools in the country are members of the NCSA, including Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Missouri, Iowa State and Air Force.
Games are rarely played midweek, so players don’t miss any classes.
“Education is first,” Hinson said. “We play all of our games on the weekend. There are exceptions: for regionals we get out and I take them out for one tournament. If we play any weekday games, we always play them at home,” Hinson said.
The Red Wolves’ schedule includes a mix of NCAA, NAIA and even NJCAA schools.
He said the only other club teams ASU plays are in the post-season.
“I try to set my girls in front of the toughest teams I can,” Hinson said.
Hinson said the university provides the field and a little seed money, but the club is on its own financially.
“We do a pretty good job of fund-raising,” he said. “Our budget is about $20,000 a year and we host a couple tournaments, camps then sell sponsor banners.
“The last three years, the girls haven’t spent a dime out of their pocket to play club ball,” Hinson said.
One thing that Hinson is really proud of: “I have a 100 percent graduation rate with my ballclub.”
“I really like the campus,” Flaming said. “They had campus police everywhere, so it’s a safe place.”