GARY | The RailCats lowered the entry fee of its high school tournament to its 2003 cost and brought teams back.
Of the 36 teams in this season's RailCats High School Challenge, three are new and 20 have returned after hiatus.
"We're trying to be sensitive to the climate, we know that teams can't afford a high-priced tournament," RailCats general manager Kevin Spudic said. "We needed teams back and we wanted more participation."
The team also opened its schedule to include early-week and mid-week games, which allowed teams like Munster to return for the first time since 2007.
"We hadn't played in a couple of years, but now that they were able to open up the schedule a little more, we're happy to come back," Mustangs coach Bob Shinkan said.
Highland and Hobart will open the challenge in a 4:30 p.m. game on April 1. Trojans coach Dan Miller was the keynote speaker at Thursday's press conference.
"It's special to be the first team and hopefully we can get off on the right track," Miller said.
The Trojans-Brickies game also signals the opening of the Northwest Crossroads Conference season for the teams. The NCC and Duneland Athletic Conference have dropped their wooden bat tournament this season as the NCC approaches a new conference schedule.
In lieu of playing two halves of the double-round robin season, NCC teams will play the same opponent in a home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesday this spring. The schedule change will guarantee that teams don't save pitchers for "big" conference games.
"There are sometimes, when you have a good team, you'll see the same pitcher a lot," Miller said. "We saw (Andrean's) Kenny Mahala several times, and we saw Adam Norton a lot. Now, we won't always see the same pitchers."
The newest teams to the high school challenge include teams from Chicago: Guerin Prep, Hales Franciscan and St. Patrick.
"I look at when I played and I didn't have the opportunity to play in stadiums like this," Spudic said as players from the participating squads included were treated to snacks of hot dogs, chips and soda. "You have this great opportunity to play in a first-class stadium. Cherish that moment."