The newly formed fastpitch softball program Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood-Kenmare-Bowbells team is anxiously anticipating the arrival of spring.
For most of the players entering their inaugural season, this will not only commemorate the first season these three programs formed a softball team, it will be the first time the players ever participated in fastpitch softball at the high school level. Molly Terveen, head coach of the newly formed team, said one of the major aspects they are working on right now is transitioning her players from the slowpitch recreation leagues to the fastpitch high school ball.
"One of the biggest aspects of the game we are working on is in the hitting and fielding," Terveen said. "The rules between fastpitch and slowpitch are a little bit different. The fielding isn't much different, it's the hitting we are mostly focusing on. You don't have to swing every time. There is a lot more strategy in fastpitch."
Des-Lacs Burlington High School Coach Jason Brooking, far right, teaches the fundamentals of the game to a group of players that have never been exposed to fast pitch softball before this season Thursday at the Burlington-Des Lacs gymnasium.
Terveen has teamed up with MLS Jesse Radzwill, MLS assistant coach, who played softball at the collegiate level at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Radzwill has been pleasantly surprised with the adaptation of the kids to the new level.
"There are a couple of kids that are still learning how to pitch," Radzwill said. "I have actually been surprised at how quickly they have picked up the game. The great thing about these kids is, they haven't developed any bad habits and can learn the proper fundamentals. They all seem very coachable."
The convergence of the three schools and developing a team is reflective of the growing interest in fastpitch softball in North Dakota.
"It's been amazing how easy it's been to get these girls interested in the sport," Tarveen said. "Traditionally, there has not been a lot of fastpitched softball, and it's still a pretty foreign concept. They have loved it and that has made the transition really easy for getting a team together too."
Elementary principal and M-L-S activities director Robbie Voigt said the decision to add fastpitch softball as a sport was partially because of the demand.
"Realistically, there were some parents that had an interest in it," Voigt said. "When we brought the concept to our school board, they weren't opposed to it. This really provides our girls with the opportunity for a new experience which, prior to this time ,was not available to them. It's another avenue we felt we could provide. We would like to build a program and continue."
The three schools didn't take a long time to get the approval process worked out and a signed agreement.
"Basically, to start our program, our schoolboard and Bowbells (schoolboard) signed an an agreement for the three years," Voigt said. "Once we had that paper work in place and submitted it, it took a couple of months to get everything done."
Voigt anticipates North Dakota softball growing in the upcoming seasons.
"We are hoping to start a program so when they do have sanctioned leagues, like basketball, we can be competitive in that league. We want to get our program started and figure all the "in's and out's," Voigt said.
Sheryl Solberg, assistant to the executive secretary for the North Dakota High School Activities Association, said she felt softball has come a long way in three years. Currently, North Dakota is one team away at 11 from having a Class A and B distinction in softball like they do in other prep sports.
"There has been softball and baseball that elementary students have been involved in," Solberg said. "I would imagine that their season is a little bit longer than ours. Our softball hasn't really had an opportunity up until the last few years. They had their own softball program within their high schools. I think for only being around for three years, we have picked up considerable interest."
Principle and Activities Director at Kenmare High School Scott Faul said they are starting their softball program early to get a head start on their program, so when there are enough teams to have a class B league, they'll be competitive.
"It's been a good experience," Faul said. "There have been some challenges when you start a new program. What our school is looking at is that it is just another opportunity, and we've received a lot of strong interest in the sport."
Scheduling in debut season difficult
Filling a full softball team has been difficult as Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood-Kenmare-Bowbells is still filling out its schedule.
"We've only got three games on our schedule, and two are against DL-B. One is against Bishop Ryan and we have entered a round robin tournament," Terveen said. "We want to be competitive, and we are trying for new teams that also have just started out. Generally, in this area, they aren't scheduling, so its been kind of tough."
Faul said scheduling has been a difficult endeavor, like any new team formulating a program. They just need more time.
"It is challenging since it's our first year we are playing a JV schedule and we have slowpitch softball. We knew we had some interest here," Faul said. "The big challenge is now moving the fastpitch situation, and we just felt it would be best to play a JV schedule. Right now, with some of our teams around us, we are going to play them multiple times and get some experience. We will definitely be in communication with Burlington, as we are paired up together and are already familiar with them. We hope that we can move at the same time if we are going to go to varsity schedule."
The softball team is also combating the weather, and is still working on scheduling more games.
"We have possibly as many as four games with DL-B, two for sure, depending on how the weather goes in the spring," Faul said. "Our first game was scheduled for Tuesday, but because of the weather, our field is not anywhere near being close to playable."
There is some concern from several of the coaches at the smaller schools who have recently added the softball program, such as M-L-S-Kenmare-Bowbells, and Des Lacs-Burlington High School, that this will take away from players participating in other sports. This has already been worked out according to DL-B head coach Karen Groninger.
"I think if you don't allow the kids to be dual athletes, then there is going to be a greater effect," Groninger said. "Someone is going to get the short end of the deal. Here, we allow our kids to participate in more than one sport. I think we have we let the kids cross over, and some do track and basketball."
Faul said it's a simple numbers game for smaller schools trying to field a competitive team.
"I think it's more of a numbers game that softball hasn't caught on earlier," Faul said. "You have coaches in other sports that are competing for kids, whether it's track, golf, wrestling, or basketball. I think that's why more Class B schools haven't started a softball program. "It gets to be so much of a grind inside right now. Between baseball practice, we have our track and field, and our fifth and sixth grade girls' basketball program. Scheduling all those things can be really difficult. It takes a toll on the coaches and the kids waiting to have decent weather outside."
One reason for the expansion of softball, according to Voigt, is affordability of building a program.
"I don't believe the cost will be detrimental to any one of the schools," Voigt said. "Each school keeps track of the things they pay for. We all pay for uniforms and travel expenses, and it'll all be paid by individual schools when we put our bills together. It's equal sharing between the schools in this case. Once you get enough balls for practice, the equipment that you get should last you several years."