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KC duo’s play to bring more college softball recruiters to Midwest goes into extra innings with new tech tool 

DATE POSTED:April 2, 2024

A Kansas City softball dad’s desire for a legacy has grown from a single tournament into four dozen events in eight states and a million-dollar boost for the Kansas City region’s economy, shared Jeremy McDowell.

Newly developed tech could bring even more eyes to the Midwest’s best emerging players.

Top Gun Events — founded by McDowell and Robb Behymer — is a KC-based premier softball event company that specializes in organizing and hosting top-tier softball tournaments across the country. Their pitch: Improve recruiting exposure for athletes, especially those in the Midwest.

The company’s signature event — the Top Gun Invitational — is hosted annually in Overland Park.

Top Gun’s latest initiative showcases the talent of individual athletes by collaborating with a tech partner to upload stats, evaluations, and videos of the athletes, McDowell shared. Top Gun also is debuting its own ratings system.

“We’re launching what’s equivalent in basketball or football to Rivals or 247 Sports,” he said, comparing the offering to other popular recruiting platforms. “That’s never been done in softball.”

“We can focus on more than just the team side,” McDowell continued. “We’re now able to take the name on the back of the jersey, as well, and basically be able to say, ‘OK, how can we come alongside these athletes to give them the proper exposure?’ Then that allows college coaches now to see more kids because they can’t be everywhere at once. We’ve done evaluations and testing for them to look at and try to match up what their needs are.”

McDowell is hoping the tool will help to solve one of the biggest challenges he sees right now in the sport: players only getting recruited because of the success of the team within which they play.

“I think what makes me excited about this next journey, if you would, is filling in the gap and standing in the gap for those athletes,” he said. “Just because you don’t play on one of the top 10 teams in the country doesn’t mean that there’s not talent all across this country. We’ve seen it.”

Click here to explore tournaments, camps and metrics from Top Gun Events.

A trend-changing legacy

Behymer was inspired to start Top Gun Events after attending his father’s 2012 funeral in Dallas, McDowell explained. He noticed the hundreds of former students and athletes who poured in to pay their respects to the former middle school teacher and coach.

Robb Behymer, Top Gun Events

“He made the statement to his brothers, ‘That’s a legacy,’” McDowell recalled.

At the time, Behymer had a daughter playing softball on a traveling team, McDowell continued. While Behymer knew his legacy wasn’t in coaching, he still wanted to do his part to elevate the experience for his daughter and other softball players. So he contacted McDowell — who already owned a company that organized baseball and softball tournaments — about starting their own event.

“He wanted to basically bring the best talent from across the country to Kansas City,” McDowell explained. “He really felt that our athletes in the Midwest deserve more opportunity than just athletes from California, Florida, and the coasts; 12 years ago, that would have been a pretty accurate statement in softball.”

Building opportunities, direct impact

In 2013, the duo put together the first Top Gun Invitational. In 2016, they started to grow the concept beyond just one event.

Jeremy McDowell, Top Gun Events

“The reason behind it is to create more opportunities for female softball players in the Midwest and give them more of an opportunity to get seen (by college scouts),” McDowell added.

In 2024, according to McDowell, Top Gun Events will host about 40 tournaments in eight states — Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama — primarily targeting 14 to 18 year olds.

“We’re not a recruiting service, but our goal is to create a platform that allows for competitive balance — with teams at the highest level — and then combine that with our exposure to college coaches and relationships we have there,” he noted.

This year’s Top Gun Invitational — set for June 12-16 in Overland Park — is expected to feature 320 teams from 32 states, including 180 traveling teams and 100 teams that will be flying in for the event. McDowell said they had to turn away another 200 teams.

Last year, he continued, the invitational had nearly $6 million in direct impact for the KC metro area and about $9 million in indirect impact.

“I think that’s been such a win for us,” he shared, “to start it as just an idea of, ‘Hey, let’s try to get some kids some opportunities where they don’t have to travel outside of the Kansas City region’ to where now this has turned into such a community impact for those four or five days.”

Leveling the playing field

In his 23 years in the youth sports industry, McDowell has seen a lot, he noted.

He’s seen the market grow from a $5 billion industry to $25 billion. And softball specifically has exploded in the past five years, especially with the addition of the Women’s College World Series on ESPN.

“I think the coolest part that we’ve seen is the playing field has been leveled from coast to coast now,” he added. “The Midwest right now is leading the country in pitching. And so we are now seeing the Arizonas, the UCLAs, the University of Floridas, the Tennessees all fly into the Midwest to pursue great athletes. So it’s been exciting to see that our level of play has nationally gone up to be able to compete with players from all over the country.”

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