His team didn’t advance to the Class 6A state tournament at Arrocha Ballpark, but Free State softball coach Lee Ice’s school was the host of the two-day event that concluded Saturday, so as long as he was there, he talked up an interesting idea.
Ice and many other softball coaches from large Kansas high schools would like to see the sport played in the fall, as Missouri and Nebraska do, instead of the spring.
The thinking: Softball loses more athletes to soccer than it would to volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. Plus, such a shift would give softball players more opportunity to play games in the spring/summer leagues not affiliated with school.
“Our kids don’t start until Memorial Day weekend or after and are done by the Fourth of July,” said Ice, who recently finished his second season as the Firebirds’ softball coach.
Ice sees a few other benefits to the move. First, some umpires work both sports, and if they were played in different seasons, the best umps would get more work, and the less talented ones wouldn’t work as many high school games.
Another benefit: College softball coaches would have more time to get out to see recruits in the fall than in the spring. As it is, Missouri and Nebraska softball players not only get to play more games (aside from school) and therefore develop more skill, they get more exposure, putting them at an advantage in the hunt for scholarship dollars and roster spots.
Softball state championships have a better shot at good weather now than in November, but for the regular season, rainouts would decrease in the fall.
Small schools, some of which don’t have soccer teams, might not like the idea, Ice said, because they would want their top athletes to be able to play both volleyball and softball.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association hasn’t officially been approached about it, and, Ice said, “It would take an act of Congress, almost, to make a major change like this.”
Regardless of when it’s played, Ice, a former Kansas University baseball player and Kansas City Royals minor leaguer who played third base alongside shortstop Buddy Biancalana, likes the sport of softball.
“It’s so much like baseball used to be played,” Ice said. “Short game. Get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in, 1-0, 2-0. The game’s the same, but the kids are a little bit different. Not as many girls grow up watching the game like boys do, so a lot of girls don’t play the game instinctively, and you have to teach them things you don’t have to teach boys. There are lot of tremendous athletes playing softball. Great arm strength, they can run and have great bat speed, but instinctively, they don’t know how to play the game as well.”
As is the case with many well-meaning high school coaches, Ice preaches that athletes shouldn’t treat sports as a life-or-death situation, do your best, but it’s just a game, yada, yada, yada. Then his team loses, and he feels as if he has been run over by a truck.
“Girls get over things a lot quicker than boys,” Ice said. “Sometimes we’ll get on the bus, and you can’t tell if they won or lost. My assistants and I have a tough time handling that, but the girls do practice what we preach.”