Softball Comes Of Age In Idaho With Tourneys
Seventeen years ago, if a high school girl wanted to play softball, it was summer leagues or nothing.
Coeur d’Alene High athletic director Larry Schwenke decided to do something about that situation. Today, nearly two decades of work by Schwenke and others reaps dividends as Coeur d’Alene plays host to the State A-1 and A-2 Tournaments.
The tourneys, beginning today and finishing Saturday, are the culmination for a sport that began as a club activity but has progressed far enough to produce Division I talent.
For the first time, the state tournament will be sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association. That means the money for the trophies and travel no longer will have to come from private donors.
Validation of the sport proves the game has come a long way from its slowpitch roots.
Some of the best pitchers are throwing in excess of 60 mph. Balls clear the short fences on occasion, and there is plenty of nifty glove work.
“I’m very proud of the kids,” Schwenke said. “Their skills have developed immensely from when they first began fastpitch.”
The game developed quickly in Idaho after fastpitch became the norm in 1994. That year, the Boise area schools switched. North Idaho followed a year later. The first all-state invitational tournament was held in 1995 at Caldwell. Centennial High of Meridian won the A-1 title in ‘95 and last year at Coeur d’Alene.
To really understand the change, though, one has to go back to 1980.
It was then that Schwenke saw that slowpitch softball was gaining popularity at the high school level in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane summer recreation leagues. Along with Red Halpern, Schwenke rounded up interest from schools like Lewiston, Lapwai and Kamiah to get a league started. The first state invitational tournament, held in 1981, was won by Lewiston. After that, it was all CdA.
The Vikings won the invitational every year until 1995, when fastpitch started. Schwenke said it made sense for Idaho to go to fastpitch because it was sandwiched between two states, Montana and Washington, that played the faster brand.
“We’re seeing kids move in from other areas that are really strong in fastpitch which helps raise the level of play here,” Schwenke said. “It’s a game colleges play, so there are opportunities for our girls to get scholarships.”
The opportunities have been taken advantage of by many players. Girls from Idaho have played at collegiate powerhouses such as Arizona State, Oregon and the University of California. Beginning next spring, local preps will have an opportunity to play college ball closer to home when softball debuts at North Idaho College.
Schwenke feels the key to softball’s success has been the support of the communities that got the sport going.
“The fact that we’ve been asked to host the first sanctioned state tournament speaks highly of our city,” Schwenke said.