Girls softball team carries on legacy of excellence

The news is that a local U-12 team just won the B.C. Squirt “C” girls fastball championship.

The news is that a local U-12 team just won the B.C. Squirt “C” girls fastball championship.

The West Kootenay Wildcats lost their first game then won seven in a row, the last over Maple Ridge – on the same field where co-coach Pam Caron won the same title 21 years ago – to take the provincial crown.

Reports are, as they should be at that level, that there were no real “stars” that propelled the Wildcats to the championship, just a solid team effort that everybody enjoyed over the weekend.

The upshot for me was to wonder what might have been decades ago, when this area dwarfed any other in the province in terms of athletic accomplishment.

The first game I ever umpired was a women’s fastball match between a Greater Trail and a Rossland team at Butler Park about 50 years ago. The quality of the ball was excellent, and I wonder now where it came from.

The experience, as well, convinced me of the value of committed officials on the ball field, to the point that until a year or so ago I spent 40-50 days each season in “blue,” at various area ballparks, the last decade or so mostly at Butler.

Back to the main point.

Boys and men, from age eight upwards were organized and trained back then to be competitive with any other baseballers in the nation – already a record of provincial and national championships was developing. Females, although successful in other sports, weren’t really provided with ball opportunities.

You see, back in that day, there wasn’t any organized minor female ball in the region.

No girls played Little League or Babe Ruth baseball and, though minor female fast pitch was a sports staple in other places in the province, there wasn’t any here.

Yet these teams of athletes from around the area, ranging in age I suppose from about 16 to about 40, all played pretty good ball.

Somehow they found coaching and equipment and organized a league and played the game.

The girls did have, like the boys, infrequent opportunities to learn the game at school – mostly elementary school because the boys took over the fields at lunchtime at high school.

But there wasn’t anything else done for them, even though they had learned to love the game.

Despite the lack of a formal community organization, these women created opportunities for them to enjoy ball.

That led, by the late 60s, to a league that included teams from Nelson to Spokane and produced provincial contenders, even champions.

A bit later, propelled by the example they set, local ball people did begin to help organize things so that females had the opportunity to compete and excel at many age levels just as males did.

Minor fastball, pretty much exclusively for females, thrived for several decades here producing dozens of scholarship winners and even national team players and coaches.

Dads and moms became as enthusiastic about ball for their daughters as they were for their sons, all to very good effect.

The numbers wax and wane as the population mix changes but female ball still has strong support here and still produces outstanding players.

The latest evidence of that is the latest news – the West Kootenay Wildcats just brought home a 2011 B.C. championship trophy.