Jon Schuh wishes now he’d gotten a heads-up a year ago.
Schuh, the fastpitch softball coach who led University to the 2002-03 state Class 4A championship, will add the game’s slowpitch version to his portfolio.
“If I’d known we were going to add this sport, I’d have gone to a couple games, just to get an idea of what it’s like,” he said.
Central Valley, East Valley and University all signed on to play slowpitch softball in the Greater Spokane League. The only schools still not participating are Mead, Mt. Spokane and Gonzaga Prep, and indications are that the Mead School District entries will join next year.
“They had indicated they were going to join this year,” said Ken VanSickle, the athletic director at U-High who doubles as the sport’s GSL coordinator. “To be honest, we’re hoping some of the parents will hear about the sport and wonder why their daughters aren’t able to participate.”
There are differences between this game and the fastpitch game played in the spring.
For one, fastpitch softball is the game played in the Olympics; slowpitch is the game played at company picnics.
For another, unlike fastpitch, there is no regional or state tournament to advance to at the end of the season. The GSL will host its own tournament, crown a league champion and name an All-GSL team.
“In fastpitch, the pitcher can be so dominant that hitters are virtually overmatched every time they come to the plate,” Joe Stanton, the Central Valley coach, said. “In slowpitch, everyone gets to hit. For the hitters, it’s a lot more fun.”
So much so that Schuh is a bit concerned.
“The one thing I worry about a little is that it will mess up a kid’s swing for fastpitch,” he said. “I’m working with the girls to hit through the ball and not hit up on it.”
All three Spokane Valley teams have significant crossover turnout from the fastpitch program. At Central Valley, Stanton figures 70 percent of his players double in the spring version.
The idea isn’t to be a feeder program for spring, said Kurt Krauth, who coaches both softball programs for East Valley.
“We’re mostly just out there having fun,” he said. “Practices tend to be shorter than in the spring since we don’t have as many plays to work on – there’s no bunt plays to work on at all. We take batting practice, we take fielding practice and we’re done.”
At first, batting practice took some getting used to, Schuh said.
“I tell you, the first practice was interesting,” he laughed. “I was chuckling, throwing batting practice. You have to learn to be patient and wait on the ball.”
Defensively, the game is pretty similar, the coaches agree.
“I think a lot of our girls figured this would be a good way to get some extra defensive reps in,” Stanton said. “They’re getting in some extra work defensively.”
“I think this game will put a lot more emphasis on your outfielders,” Schuh said. “In fastpitch, the pressure is on your infield much more so than the outfield. In this game the ball will get to the outfield a lot more.”
“The idea is to give the girls another sport they can play,” VanSickle said. “I really don’t think we’re going to draw players away from cross country or volleyball or soccer. Most of the girls who are playing slowpitch wouldn’t be playing a fall sport if we didn’t offer this sport.”
Schuh is impressed with the way his school has approached the new sport.
“I think we’ve done this the right way,” he said. “We have new uniforms for the girls. We have new equipment for them. The school didn’t shortcut this and give the kids uniforms from a couple years ago and just try to make do.”
Central Valley Bears
The Bears are taking the “work hard and have fun” approach to the season, Stanton said.
“I think some of the girls are surprised that they’re having so much fun hitting the ball,” he said. “It’s not like playing a team like Shadle Park and having trouble even getting the bat on the ball. Everybody gets to hit, and they’re having a great time doing it.”
East Valley Knights
Krauth has five seniors leading his varsity.
Fastpitch infielder Danica Hanley plays shortstop. Laura Summers and Josie Davis both play the outfield. Alkala Michener plays both second and third base, and Alyssa Reinland, who anchors the East Valley infield at third base in the spring, will play both third and short for the Knights.
Senior Ashley Fargher, an all-league catcher in fastpitch, will pitch and play infield this fall.
Fastpitch players Alyssa Hawley, Riki Schiermeister, Kayla Griffith, Michelle Wells, Alexis Obenchain, Rachel Squires, Amanda Hickman and Alisha Warren all will play for the Titans.