Hello Fastpitch enthusiasts,
This diatribe marks the first Fastpitch Bulletin for 2017, the 17th consecutive year that I have been posting such writings.
The latest edition of the Wisconsin High School Fastpitch Coaches Association clinic is now in the history books. It was a good clinic with some excellent presenters covering pertinent topics for both new coaches young and old as well as longtime veterans and yes even coaching dinosaurs like Bob Sulser now at Madison Edgewood, Dale Gray at Wisconsin Dells, and yes myself at Poynette.
Personally, the 12th of March will mark the 38th consecutive first-practice of the year. As I look back on those early high school fastpitch days I smile, chuckle and shake my head all at the same time.
I remember a vote that the WIAA held by asking high principals to vote on whether or not high school girls’ softball ought to be slow pitch or fastpitch. Our principal came to me for my thoughts. That was in the mid 1970s and I was actively, no more than actively involved in men’s fastpitch softball but I had also watched some great women’s fastpitch in the Madison area. Two women from Poynette played on the Madison Cardinals and were stalwarts on that team. Of course I told our principal to vote for fastpitch and not slowpitch. I told him that it’s more like baseball with more strategy than slowpitch. He voted for fastpitch but it took too many years for Poynette to get a girl’s team going.
Finally in 1979 the Poynette school district added ithe sport to list of girl’s sports they supported. They bought full uniforms, white pants, orange jersies and an orange and white cap with a script P on the front and an adjustable strap (plastic) on the back. Many teams only had a shirt and the girls played in jeans or shorts. Poynette bought them some bats, a set of catcher’s gear complete with the required catcher’s chest protector that included breast cups attached, batting helmets and they hired two coaches to start the program. One coach “qualified” because one of her brothers played men’s fastpitch in the Madison Major League. She would be the first assistant coach. The head coach was the high school art teacher and was eager to get things going and eager to learn something about the sport and how to teach it.
I helped them on a volunteer basis frequently and I was the plate ump for all five of their home games. Be it known that in those days the season regulations limited the number of games to just 12. That’s correct, 12 games. The game was called fastpitch but the only thing fast about it was the speed that many of those girls could run. The pitching speeds were so slow that the game actually looked like slow pitch with bunting and stealing. Few bunters were ever retired and few base stealers were ever caught stealing. A base on balls meant that the batter would be on third base within two pitches if there were no lead runners. They’d steal second on the first pitch and swipe third on the next one. Most coaches would just send the batter-run immediately on to second without stopping at first and especially when third base was occupied but second was not. They invariably got a free pass. That’s one aspect of the game today that has held on. Those runners, for the most part, still get a free pass to second with a runner at third. Last Saturday at the clinic, the fella from Omaha talked about ways to control that in his final presentation but the bottom line will continue to be that most coaches will just yell “don’t throw it, let her go!”
After a number of years the number of games a team could play during the regular season increased to 14. I wish I could remember the exact year’s for all these changes for you but I can’t and unfortnately I did not save my rules and case books from all those years. After a few years of 14 games the WIAA relented and added two more but ---- those extra two games had to be played on a day not followed by a school day. That meant Friday games. Any doubleheaders also had to be played on a day not followed by a school day.
Softball teams were not allowed to miss any class time so there were no early releases to get to a distant site with time for a pre-game warm up period. However, at the same time the track teams and golf teams were repeatedly released early to get to their events. Softball coaches have had to battle and battle over the years to see progresss take place and they are still battling and battling. One such topic is the number of innings a kid can play and not have it count toward one of the 26 she can play in during the regular season. Just today I received an email from WFSCA President Brad Ceranski with a survey that included three questions for head coaches to ponder and vote on. If you are a head coach be sure to look for and answer that survey. I personally will be asking Brad for the number of coaches who ultimately respond to the survey. Two of the questions involve seeding the state tournament teams. Another is the aforementioned limit on innings to constitute a game which is now and has been for years and years just one inning. Yet in basketball a girl can play in three halves per night and three halves totals 50 minutes if the JV game is played in 16 minute halves. But a softball player can only play in one inning and not be charged with a game played. That issue comes into play within programs with low numbers of participants but one or two more than the number whereby the state sanctioning body can issue a special permit to play in three innings and not count as a game played (did you know about that exception?).
There were not light bats in those early days. Girls were using bats that were 33 or 34 inches long and weighed 32-38 ounces. They were mostly made of 7641 aluminum. Look that up if you don’t know what it is (Easton’s SX10 did not hit the softball market until 1988). The #3 batter for the Poynette team used a Lousiville Slugger 125 Speed Swing wooden bat and hit a ton of doubles right down the leftfield line. Her record stood up for many years.
The general public viewed high school girl’s softball as a recreational activity much like the “beer leagues” played by adults after dinner in the summer. The newspaper didn’t cover the games, at least not the major daily papers.
The pitching rules for girl’s fastpitch were the exact same rules that the baseball pitchers and coaches had to abide by. Schools were lucky to have one kid who could throw strikes much less two or three (that hasn’t changed much either in reality). In 1984 the innings rules on pitchers were trashed and since that season a pitcher can throw every pitch of every inning of every game in a 26-game season if the coach chooses to send her there (and most do).
The pitching distance was just 40’ from the back tip of home plate and the balls were white. The pitchers, unlike today’s game, were not allowed to crow hop and leap, and they didn’t (there weren’t many windmillers and there were just a few sling shot pitchers if you even know what that looks like). Now the distance is 43’ and we see widespread crow hops and leaps as well as kids landing outside the width of the pitcher’s plate
Each school hired/contracted their home game umpires for all their games including the WIAA tournament series. Some umpires were actually teachers from that school like me, community folks who were umpires and even brothers of that school’s head coach. That scenario remained true until about ten years ago when the WIAA, in a round-about way started contracting the tournament umpires. They didn’t want to but they eventually, through an interesting system did. That started with all head coaches having to submit a short list of umpires they felt were suitable to work tournament games.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind going back to that system rather than the way we rank umpires now but that’s a topic we’ll cover in an upcoming Fastpitch Bulletin.
We are just 10 days away from the start of the 2017 season.
Have a fastpitch kind of day and as always,
Keep it Rising!