No. 19 rushed toward the melee. A red-shirted woman tried to stop the girl. Not all the red-shirts wanted a fight.
The woman caught No. 19’s arm for a split second, yelled something at the girl. Stop? Didn’t matter. No. 19 was too fast, or too strong, and the well-meaning woman nearly stumbled to the ground as the girl charged past her to the front lines.
Like all the girls, she stopped just short of the violence — then turned and started pleading with one of the adults. But what could she say?
Out there, on a knoll at the edge of Brickyard Park in Kingsport, Tenn., a 12-and-under USA Softball tournament had already devolved into chaos.
The Cardinal Heat had been playing the Blue Ridge Explosion, both teams from out of state, in a 70-team single-elimination tournament Saturday.
Many of the parents and escorts — all well over 12 years old — wore bright red or blue T-shirts, respectively, as they cheered the girls from the knoll.
According to city and tournament officials, some of the red-shirts got it into their heads that the umpire was being too friendly to Blue Ridge.
“I think one of the parents popped off,” USA Softball membership director John Miller told The Washington Post.
“And it just got louder and louder,” city athletics program coordinator Tod McLemore told the Times News. “
It was mostly just screaming by the time Bryan Sayers of Virginia began to record from the sidelines — a Facebook video that he would title “Kingsport TN MMA” and which half a million people would watch.
As the video began, a red-shirt and blue-shirt were grappling on the knoll. The men pushed and shoved each other, until the red-shirt gained the upper hand and flung the other to the bottom of the hill.
“Then all chaos broke out,” McLemore told the newspaper, unnecessarily, if you’ve seen the video.
The blue-shirt charged back up the knoll, which each second grew more crowded as red-shirts and plain-clothed sympathizers of both sides rushed in to the melee.
This whole mess of humanity toppled atop each other nearly simultaneously — a carpet of red-on-blue-on-flesh.
The original blue-shirt, the man who had been thrown down the hill before running back up, ended up near the bottom of the dog pile, and a red-shirt appeared to kick him in the head.
Everything described above took place in about 13 seconds. Sayer’s video was nearly a minute long.
If you’re wondering what happened to No. 19, she was nowhere to be seen at this point in the fight, which was probably for the best. But two other players ran toward the fray — their pig- and ponytails flapping as they charged.
The girls might not have been fighting, but they were shouting as loud as the adults.
“I like to yell and scream, but I do my best to scream positive things for the kids,” Kingsport resident Lesli Hicks told WJHL afterward. “Well, I’m just thankful to hear it wasn’t parents from our area.”
After 20 seconds or so, the melee had split into two separate battles, as seen in the video.
On the upper slope, a single blue-shirt appeared to be taking on several red-shirts and plainclothes people with no support. He was losing, obviously. A woman from the sidelines tried to help. She first threw a water bottle at a man on top of him, then what looked like a cleat.
The fighters on the lower slope were all plainclothes, so it’s impossible to tell who fought for Cardinal and who for Blue Ridge.
A large, bearded man was dominating this mosh, whatever his allegiance. He surfaced from behind someone’s knee 26 seconds into the fight, shook off other men like water and stood, shirt half pulled off in the Tennessee sun.
Player No. 3, still wearing her helmet, was standing behind a barricade at the bottom of the slope at this point, trying in vain to pull a man back from the melee.
She reached into the mob and put a hand hesitantly on his ankle. It seemed to do no good; the man just moved deeper into the fight. No. 3 turned from the carnage and buried her face in a sympathizer’s chest.
Whether coincidentally or not, the madness seemed to lift at just that moment. Red, blue and plain shirts all rose from the grass. The screaming ended. Men and women staggered off the knoll in their respective directions.
The police showed up shortly afterward, the Times-News wrote, but couldn’t find anyone willing to claim assault or injury.
The residents of Kingsport certainly weren’t impressed.
“I just think it wasn’t very appropriate,” a woman told WJHL after Sayer’s Facebook video went viral.
Neither did USA Softball.
“It’s unsportsmanlike,” Miller told The Post.
“The girls didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “It’s the parents, or those people there for the teams.”
But because none of the adults admitted their involvement to police, he said, USA Softball is now conducting a two-state investigation into the fight.
And in the meantime, the tournament director has barred both Cardinal and Blue Ridge from her games — the girls paying for the violence of their parents.