After 37 years, the Lutz Leaguerettes girls’ softball organization has discontinued its slow-pitch leagues.
The decision was made due to dwindling registration figures, and an overwhelming preference for fast-pitch, which was first introduced in the spring.
A survey and questionnaire by players and parents showed a 92-to-4 vote in favor of fast-pitch over slow-pitch, said Mike Cook, president of the Leaguerettes.
The nonprofit league only had about 20 girls registered for slow-pitch in the spring, compared to about 200 for fast-pitch.
At one point, the Leaguerettes had 400-plus girls playing in its slow-pitch leagues. But, that was before the rise in popularity of fast-pitch during the past few decades.
“The writing on the wall was that slow-pitch has pretty much fallen by the wayside,” Cook said. “The rest of the county and other areas don’t have slow-pitch available anymore, so we basically played among ourselves this past season.”
The Leaguerettes was the last recreational league in the county to offer slow-pitch softball to girls ages 5 to 18.
Other softball programs — the Brandon Leaguerettes, North Tampa Leaguerettes, Tampa Bay Velocity and FishHawk Miss Tampa Bay Softball — all transitioned exclusively to fast-pitch over the past few seasons.
“We found out how many other organizations were doing rec league fast-pitch, and we realized that we were able to compete against other organizations and other leagues,” Cook said. “It kind of gives the girls a different perspective.”
The league president said the introduction of fast-pitch was a strenuous one for the league’s board of directors, considering the significant variations in rules and regulations, age divisions and equipment.
“We had a lot to learn,” Cook said. “The move to fast-pitch had been brought up in the last few years, but logistically, it was a huge transition for us to make.”
Cook noted that over $2,000 worth of fast-pitch equipment was recently purchased, including softball pitching machines and catcher’s gear—leg pads, chest protector, mask and shin guards; protective face masks for all pitchers and infielders were also introduced.
One significant adjustment between fast-pitch and slow-pitch is the offensive strategy employed to try to win games.
In fast-pitch, the general offensive approach is to play ‘small ball,’ where bunting, slapping and hitting singles are heavily relied upon to generate runs. Conversely, offensive players in slow-pitch softball are often taught to hit the ball as far as possible, due to the relative ease at making contact.
“For us to learn the rules and transfer that information to the girls was a difficult task on the coaches, the player agents and the entire administrative portion of the league,” the league president said.
In the spring, 11 fast-pitch teams were formed across four age divisions — 8U, 10U, 12U and 16U.
“It probably exceeded expectations, because we didn’t really know what kind of response we were going to get,” Cook said.
The upcoming fall season may perhaps see an even larger response, since approximately 50 percent of the league’s current registered players will be new participants in the league.
While fast-pitch registration is open to girls ages 6 to 18, most of the league’s participants range from ages 10 to 14, Cook said.
“A lot of the girls, they think ‘fast-pitch’ is stressful competition, and they’re going to be playing with girls that are so far out of their skill level, but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “For probably about 70 (percent) to 80 percent of the girls, it was their first year playing fast-pitch as well.”
Jennifer Parry, the league’s secretary, told The Laker/Lutz News in January that the increased desire for young girls to play softball in high school has had a significant influence on the rise of fast-pitch.
“I think with the popularity of (former Olympic gold medalist softball pitcher) Jennie Finch, the Olympics and all these girls playing softball in college, it’s really changed softball for kids,” she said. “So many more kids want to play softball in high school, so they’re having to learn how to play fast-pitch.”
While slow-pitch will no longer be available, the league is bringing back T-ball leagues (ages 5 to 6) for the first time in several years.
“Basically it will be (softball) at a slower pace where we’ll be teaching them the fundamentals and the spirit of teamwork; it’s not about winning or losing at that age — it’s about learning the game and trying to have fun,” Cook said.
Refurbished fields will be another new feature this fall.
Cook said the five softball fields at both Oscar Cooler Sports Complex and Nye Park in Lutz are currently undergoing drastic renovations, including new clay field surface and new bases.
Player registration closes on Aug. 19, with fall practices starting Sept. 1. Opening Day is set for Oct. 1.
For more information, visit LutzSoftball.com.
Published July 27, 2016