Remembering Olympic Softball

by on December 18th, 2010
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A couple of years following the Olympic debut of softball at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to go to a week-long softball camp at a local college. I was just making the jump from slow-pitch to fast-pitch softball as a young teen, and my parents thought the skills clinic of the camp would make the transition easier. That’s what they wanted out of it. I wanted to be like Lisa Fernandez, the Team USA pitcher, even though I had never thrown a pitch and didn’t plan on it in the future.

It was a blazing hot week, one of the hottest on record in coastal Virginia. Every batting, fielding, and throwing motion sent sweat flying in every direction. But it was worth it. We all had dreams of playing softball in college, or at the national level. Most of those dreams stemmed from watching the ladies of USA softball take the field at the Olympics.

Though later I would decline opportunities to play softball for school or a tournament team, as school band activities took over, I continued to play at the basic city recreation league level with the same passion and love for the game inspired by Olympic softball. I continued to watch enthusiastically as Team USA dominated in World Championships and at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and again at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

In 2005, it seemed Team USA had dominated too much. A decision that year was made to drop both softball and baseball from the Olympics, with one last hoorah at the 2008 Games of Beijing, where USA softball lost the gold medal to Japan. There will be no softball at the 2012 Olympics in London. It was possible softball would return in 2016, but hopes were dashed when the International Olympic Committee decided against it in 2009. A proposal was brought forth by the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation to bring those sports back in 2020, and softball made the list of sports to be considered for that year. A decision by the IOC is pending, and so are the hopes of young boys and girls everywhere.

Sure, there are other sports girls can participate in and still have Olympic hopes driving them along. But none seem to have the camaraderie and atmosphere of softball. Screaming cheers and crowding around home plate after a home run are a few of the things we’ll miss this summer at the 2012 London Olympics.

What will it take to bring that excitement and pride back? Should we simply let the best be the best? Or should the International Softball Federation be looking at ways to improve softball, or foster enthusiasm for the sport, in countries outside the United States? Although I would love to see my country win gold in every sport, part of me wants Team USA to become ambassadors for the sport, and put on clinics and camps in other countries to improve their chances of being successful in international competition.

When I have children, I hope to show them how softball shaped me into having a competitive spirit and sense of teamwork that exists off the field. For now, all I’ll have to show them is Friday night church league softball, a poor substitute for the hope and glory of Olympic softball. Here’s looking to 2020.

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