OTTO-Proactive Effort Needed For Fastpitch To Survive

August 26, 2009

Yucaipa, CA

Proactive effort needed for fastpitch to survive

WINSTON, MISSOURI - For 28 years Eric Lewis has traveled the men's
fastpitch softball circuit in his home state of Missouri and
throughout much of the Midwest pitching and competing against some of
the U.S. and world's best teams.

But he's worried. The sport he loves is in trouble.

The numbers of boys and men's teams playing the game has dropped
drastically in recent years. To stop that downward spiral, a "grass
roots" effort is needed.

To that end, Lewis has taught his sons, Craig, 10, and Jacob, 8, how
to pitch. And he's actively involved in recruiting and coaching
youngsters for his Northwest Royals boys' teams that compete in
Amateur Softball Association (ASA) national tournaments.

And pitching is the key component that makes forming a team, boys or
men, even possible.

Both Craig and Jacob are enrolled in the ASA and International
Softball Congress (ISC) joint USA Developmental Pitching program.

It's a FREE program in which coaches or parents video tape their
young charges pitching motion and then mail the tapes to ASA pitching
coach, Gary Mullican, or ISC pitching coach, Michael White. Both men
- respected for their pitching knowledge - offer their services to
help foster the growth of the sport.

"We send the video tapes to U.S. pitching coach Gary Mullican for
analysis and critique," Lewis said.

Some in the baseball world - especially coaches - site their concern
that should fastpitch softball popularity increase among the boys and
young men, baseball will suffer. Or that the mechanics involved with
fastpitch will some how harm the performance of baseball players.

That's just not so, insist many baseball coaches, including Jim
Holden an assistant coach with Mt. San Jacinto Community College in
southern California.

"Fastpitch develops faster reaction times in the field and at the
plate," said Holden, himself a former fastpitch player. "It helps
develop quicker wrists and reaction to pitches and in the field
players have to learn to make plays quicker because of the shorter

And Jack Norman, national tournament director for the 2009 ASA Boys'
National Championships held at Caswell Park in North Mankato,
Minnesota sited an example of a college baseball coach who encouraged
his players to play fastpitch.

"Before he retired this (local) college coach told his players to go
out and find the best fastpitch team you possibly can to play on
during the summer," Norman said.

Cooperation and an understanding of the crossover benefits of both
sports can foster a working relationship between baseball and
fastpitch softball, Lewis believes.

"Baseball coaches should appreciate the positive skills that are
learned playing fastpitch," said Lewis, who is the principal,
athletic director, boys' softball, and basketball coach at Winston
High School.

"Base running, stealing, bunting, execution, quick reaction time are
all important skills that fastpitch can help younger players with."

But more help needs to come from current and retired players as well
to recruit, coach, and form boys and young men's teams. However, some
have already "stepped up to the plate."

Lewis credits Missouri men such as Robert Davis and Lee Warford for
doing their part.

"Robert and Lee sponsored and coached young men's teams regularly 10
to 20 years a go and many of those young players make up the few
remaining teams in our area," Lewis said.

"And two long-time players, Leo Blakely and John Younger help keep
men's fastpitch going in northwest Missouri by adding young players
to their rosters each summer. They are great softball mentors."

And there's Greg McQuinn of Conception Junction, who has been very
active in young men's fastpitch, Lewis said.

"He has coached several of the Northwest Implement teams that play in
multiple age divisions in recent young men's national tournaments.
This year he sponsored teams in the ASA age 16-under and 23-under

But still even more needs to be done for the sport to reverse its
downward trend.

On Lewis' wish list is for the North American Fastpitch Association
(NAFA) to become more involved in the youth effort. NAFA offers World
Series tournaments for men's teams in both the U.S. and in Canada.

And if NAFA could find its way to offer boys tournaments in the
various age divisions (10, 12, 14, 16, and 18-under, for example)
then the Canadian boys' teams just might enter, Lewis reasons.

"I hope that NAFA will consider adding a young men's tournament with
lower age groups," he said. "This would add the younger Canadian
players and teams to our competition pool.

"We have to become more proactive if this sport is to survive in

Bob Otto

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