LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Merri Sherman, the Executive Director of the Greater Columbus Georgia Sports and Events Council, has been chosen as just the fifth recipient of the prestigious Melinda Fischer Distinguished Service Award in the Association’s 40-year history. The award recognizes a person who has shown exceptional commitment and dedication to the NFCA and the sport of fastpitch softball.

Sherman has worked closely with many fastpitch organizations over her 20 years serving the Columbus community, bringing national tournaments in a wide variety of sports to Georgia. The eight-field South Commons Softball Complex, located adjacent to Golden Park — the site of the inaugural Olympic softball competition at the 1996 Atlanta Games — has been a fixture for NFCA Leadoff Classic tournaments in NCAA Division I, II and III, plus NAIA and junior college since 2005.

"Merri Sherman has given selflessly of her time and talents to the softball community and to the NFCA. Under her visionary leadership, she has provided a top notch 'home away from home' for our NFCA Leadoff Classic tournaments in Columbus, Ga,” NFCA Executive Director Carol Bruggeman said. “South Commons Complex has been the host for our prestigious collegiate tournaments for multiple divisions over many years. Student-athletes, coaches, umpires, and fans all enjoy a first-class experience at these events, thanks to Merri's unwavering commitment to excellence.”

“Like the award's namesake, Melinda Fischer, Merri has been a difference-maker for the NFCA. She continues to elevate the sport, the Association, and our Leadoff tournaments. Merri is very deserving of our highest service award.”

South Commons has hosted the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state softball championships for the past two decades, and has been the destination for the NAIA Softball World Series in 2013-14 and 2020-23. It will host both the high school and NAIA World Series again this coming season.

Sherman and Columbus also maintain a close relationship with USA Softball, hosting many of its national team events, including Team USA’s 2022 exhibition with Australia and Japan, the 2019 International Cup and USA Softball Youth National and Regional Championships.

The National Club Softball Association World Series has held its championship in Columbus, as has NCAA Division II’s Peach Belt Conference (2012-13) and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (2009-11). The NAIA’s Southern States Athletic Conference (2010-13) and Association of Independent Institutions (2012) tournaments have also been at South Commons.

In 2021, Sherman received the National Contributor Award for Outstanding Leadership hosting the GHSA softball state championships, and she has been one of the driving forces behind the numerous renovations at the South Commons Complex over the years — ranging from a new batting facility and bullpens to the addition of energy-efficient LED field lighting — to give fastpitch athletes an award-winning complex.

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized by the NFCA for the Melinda Fischer Service Award,” Sherman said. “Having witnessed Melinda’s dedication to softball as well as seeing the distinguished list of previous recipients, this award truly means so much to me. We have an incredible team in Columbus, and we’re blessed with a very supportive Board and City. Thank you to the NFCA for being such an integral part of helping us make our dreams a reality!”

Sherman will receive her award and be recognized on Dec. 9 during the Awards Brunch of the 2023 NFCA National Convention at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky.

Previous winners of the Melinda Fischer Distinguished Service Award are ESPN producer Meg Aronowitz (2018), former National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Executive Director Mary Ellen Leicht (2016), former NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor (and current NCAA equipment consultant) Dee Abrahamson, and longtime former Illinois State head coach and NFCA Convention coordinator Fischer (2002). The award was named for inaugural winner Fischer in 2018. Both Fischer (2010) and Abrahamson (2019) are NFCA Hall of Famers.

Celebrating 40 years in 2023, the NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association) is the professional organization for fastpitch softball coaches. Known for its highly-regarded Awards Program, the NFCA also educates and supports softball coaches on a variety of different levels: from NFCA podcasts to a comprehensive drills database, to in-person events and a National Convention.

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