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Archive for Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Fast-pitch league helps development

LGFPA provides young girls with early chance at learning softball

June 8, 2004

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Bonnie Mills doesn't mind that the teams in her fast-pitch softball league are playing most of their games on Sundays.

Sure, it prevents many teams from playing in weekend tournaments, which often make up most competitive fast-pitch softball teams' schedules.

But with more than a dozen baseball and softball leagues sharing nine fields, Sunday is the only option for open playing fields for Lawrence Girls Fast Pitch Assn.'s developmental league.

What bothers Mills the most is that some fields around Lawrence, such as the field at the Sport 2 Sport complex in southwest Lawrence go unused.

"Field space really holds back growth," said Mills, creator of the year-old developmental league.

Despite a shortage of fields, participation in the league jumped from 130 girls to 220 this season. Mills credited word of mouth for the increased number of players because the league has no corporate sponsorship.

Before Mills developed the league, opportunities for girls to play fast-pitch softball in Lawrence were nonexistent. Last year, Lawrence Parks and Recreation offered non-competitive softball for girls up to 12 years old only.

Melissa Shumonja, coach and co-coordinator of the league, grew up playing in Lawrence's DCABA (Douglas County Amateur Baseball Assn.) baseball leagues. She said DCABA was the only league in Lawrence for girls to play competitive ball in the '80s.

"Girls sports, especially softball, have always been the weakest out of all Lawrence sports," said Mills, who played softball for Lawrence High and Kansas University.

Although some girls still play DCABA baseball, most have made the switch to competitive fast pitch softball in the developmental league.

Lawrence Fast pitch Red team's Abbey Lindelof catches pitch against
the Yellow team. Sunday night's double header was played at Holcom
Sports Complex.

Lawrence Fast pitch Red team's Abbey Lindelof catches pitch against the Yellow team. Sunday night's double header was played at Holcom Sports Complex.

When Mills came to Lawrence in the early '80s, she played fast-pitch softball for Lawrence girls fast-pitch pioneer Randy Fyler. Despite that opportunity, she said the organization of fast-pitch softball in Lawrence at that time was not conducive to much growth.

"There always seemed to be a piece missing," Mills said.

Her team became what is now the Lawrence Girls Fast Pitch Softball Assn.'s Phenix team. The Phenix organization has nine teams, which travel almost every weekend to national tournaments.

Jourdann Shumonja, Melissa's daughter who plays for the Phenix's 14-and-under team, said their team has had one weekend off since April.

"Playing on a competitive traveling team like the Phenix is a huge financial and time commitment for not only the player, but the parents as well," Mills said. "We wanted a local competitive league, so our girls could play fast-pitch softball without traveling every week."

Other than the Phenix team, Lawrence girls could not play fast-pitch softball until junior high before last year.

The developmental league is a hybrid between Lawrence's ultra-competitive Phenix team, and the non-competitive, just-for-fun city-sponsored Parks and Recreation leagues which offer slow-pitch softball without keeping score.

The developmental league also offers twice as many games as the Parks and Recreation leagues.

Shumonja said the fast-pitch game is its own brand of softball because it varies greatly from slow pitch, especially in pitching.

In slow-pitch softball, the pitcher throws the ball in an underhand sling-shot style, releasing it at the hip, while fast-pitch hurlers use the quicker windmill-style motion.

"You can't wait until you are 13 years old to learn to play fast-pitch after you have been playing slow pitch all of your life," Shumonja said.

Lawrence Fastpitch Red team's Taylor Schoenfeld hurls a pitch
against the Yellow team. Sunday night's double header was played at
Holcom Sports Complex.

Lawrence Fastpitch Red team's Taylor Schoenfeld hurls a pitch against the Yellow team. Sunday night's double header was played at Holcom Sports Complex.

The philosophy behind the developmental league is to provide a positive, instructional environment for girls in age divisions ranging from 8-and-under to 15-and-under.

Yellow Jacket's head coach Everett Dexter is in his second year in the league. He said experiences such as going to the state tournament last summer motivated his players to improve.

"The level of competition we saw at the tournament gave the girls something to aim for this year," Dexter said.

Dexter, who worked with his daughter, Megan, on her pitching technique throughout the winter, said he already has seen much progression from his players.

The young girls aren't the only ones trying to improve, though. All 18 coaches attend training sessions to learn important techniques, such as how to lead an effective practice and instructing players how to safely slide into a base.

Player fees are $100 each season, $60 of which is paid by the players with the rest produced through fund-raising efforts.

The fees are used to provide each player with a uniform top, socks and a visor, with 20 percent of the fees going to the city to cover the costs of using the city's fields.

The league placed the girls on teams using a draft system similar to the Houk/Ice baseball league. Next year the league plans to adopt a system similar to the Heinrich league, allowing coaches to choose whether to keep up to 12 players from their previous team.

All Douglas County residents can play, but a majority of the players live in Lawrence. Eudora and Baldwin City have fast-pitch softball leagues, but in the past, Lawrence-based teams often traveled to Olathe to play in leagues.

Mills said the developmental league based many of its rules on those used by Olathe Girls Assn., and she hopes to follow the OGA's model in more ways than just rules.

The OGA recently built a softball complex at 91st and Flint in Olathe, and Mills would like to see land in West Lawrence used for a new youth softball complex.

"I think if we prove it to the city just how popular softball is in Lawrence, they would probably provide us with more fields and facilities," Mills said.

"It'd be amazing to see what kind of talent we would see in our high schools if we had the facilities to support fast pitch softball player development like they have in other communities, like Olathe."

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