A group of parents and softball coaches with South Williamson Athletics held a meeting Thursday night at Spring Hill city hall to address concerns about recent rule changes introduced by the Williamson County Parks and Recreation for the upcoming fall season.
A group of parents and softball coaches with South Williamson Athletics held a meeting Thursday night at Spring Hill city hall to address concerns about recent rule changes introduced by the Williamson County Parks and Recreation for the upcoming fall season. The meeting was arranged through the joint efforts of Todd Lewis, formerly the SWA softball president, and Spring Hill Alderman Susan Zemek. Zemek said in organizing the meeting, she was not acting in her capacity as an alderman but rather as a longtime coach and parent of children involved in SWA softball.
â€œI was on the [softball] board when it first formed,â€ said Zemek. â€œIâ€™ve had my kids playing SWA softball for about ten years, and Iâ€™ve helped a lot with fundraising. My biggest concern about all the new changes was how they were made without allowing any of the league commissioners to vote. It was as if â€˜Big Brotherâ€™ just said, â€˜Boom! Here are the changes.â€™ And a lot of us feel that they are changes that will move the league backwards from where weâ€™ve taken it. Weâ€™ve worked to make it a more competitive league.â€
Among the changes for fall, players in the 10-and-under division can no longer advance home on wild pitches. More significantly, the 16-and-under division will no longer have fast-pitch play, a change Zemek considers a poor decision.
â€œThose girls wonâ€™t play anymore,â€ Zemek said. â€œIf girls that age canâ€™t make their schoolâ€™s softball team, they want to do fast pitch.â€
Another change will be the removal of two divisions in the ten-and-under group, an â€œAâ€ division and a â€œBâ€ division that had been tried last spring. Competition in the ten-and-under group will now revert to a single grouping as it had been prior to the spring, and everyone will use the “B” division rules this fall.
According to the SWA softball website, the “B” rules for 10-and-under are as follows: “The ‘B’ division…is intended to be a training ground’ for pitchers and catchers.” The rules that had been modified and applied only to the old “B” division will now apply for the entire 10-and-under group.
One of Zemekâ€™s key concerns was the elimination of umpires from the six-and-under age group.
â€œThat oneâ€™s going to be a problem as well,â€ said Zemek. â€œIf youâ€™ve ever had children involved in sports, you know that what happens in the games can get very tense between the parents. Without umpires, theyâ€™re asking us to simply rely on coaches to make calls, and thatâ€™s asking a lot.â€
While serving as the president of softball for SWA, Lewis â€œled the charge on all the changesâ€ to make league play more like real softball, according to Zemek.
â€œWe made changes that would let the girls who were playing have less of a shock as they moved up [into more competitive play],â€ said Zemek.
But concerns about declining participation in the SWAâ€™s softball league over the last five years led the Parks and Recreation department to rethink the rule changes, according to Williamson Countyâ€™s deputy director for parks Gordon Hampton.
â€œWhat it boils down to,â€ said Hampton, â€œis that we have to define two levels of play for girls in softball. There is recreational play, and there is competitive play, and the focus of this county administration is to have a recreational league. Now there has been a move over the last two years to have a style of play [in the SWA] that is more in line with competitive or travel-team softball. And these new rules weâ€™re trying this fall are to get play back in line with recreational rules. And the purpose of that is simple. If the parents of a young girl want to introduce her to softball, she needs to start out with slow-pitch, or coach-pitched play until she finds out if she has the ability to try competitive play.â€
Hampton said that very sharp declines in player participation over the last five seasons prove that something needs to be done to make the play more fun and draw more girls into the league.
â€œSome of the parents who went to the meeting on Thursday felt that the changes weâ€™ve made were done to destroy the competitive component,â€ said Hampton. â€œBut as our staff pointed out, the league has lost about 600 players over the last five or six years. And thatâ€™s because many are losing interest. Because when the league had a recreational focus, most outs were by throw outs. So there was lots of action, and everyone contributed. But once you go competitive, itâ€™s all about strikeouts. We have games now where thereâ€™s never a ball hit into the outfield, and you have girls who go the whole summer and never do anything but stand around. Naturally they lose interest, and so do their parents. Unless your daughter is pitching or catching, no oneâ€™s paying attention to the game.â€
Hampton said it was time to restore a style of play that will be fun and welcoming to a larger pool of players who can then determine for themselves whether they want to play a more competitive style.
â€œThe fast pitch rules can be pretty intimidating,â€ said Hampton. â€œWe wanted to initiate a change allowing a recreational style for those who want that, and competitive for those who want that.â€
Thursdayâ€™s meeting was attended by Zemek, Lewis, a number of parents of children participating in this fallâ€™s softball season, and Athletics Director Gary Hathcock of the Williamson County Parks and Recreation department. Lewis invited Hathcock in the hopes that he could provide concerned parents with some answers about why the changes had been made.
â€œWe were appreciative that Gary attended,â€ said Zemek. â€œ[The SWA and the Williamson County Parks] didnâ€™t give us any notice about the changes, and softball registration is happening right now. Then we had only 24 hoursâ€™ notice about the meeting [on Thursday]. So Todd and I made a joint effort to have someone present that could give us some answers, and we had already been told that [SWA Vice President of Field Sports] Brad Phillips would not be attending. But Gary did come and give us some answers. Now we didnâ€™t agree with the answers we heard, but his coming was better than their just banging down the gavel, and saying, â€˜This is what you will do with your league.â€™ That kind of thing is hard for people who are so involved in a league. We had a very civil meeting, and we went into it not knowing what was best to do. [Spring Hill Alderman] Eliot Mitchell, who was a big part of starting the SWA, was also there which I appreciated.â€
For the time being, Zemek and other concerned parents have conceded that there is basically no time to do anything about the rule changes. But Zemek did say that she plans to re-evaluate how to move forward in the spring through conversation with other SWA parents.
â€œWeâ€™re under [the Williamson County Parks] umbrella,â€ said Zemek. â€œThey hire the umpires. They get the field space, and we pay them â€˜Xâ€™ amount of dollars. A percentage of our registration goes to [the Parks Department] for use of their fields and umpires. So for this year weâ€™ll have to suck it up and deal with the changes. I hope thereâ€™s a chance theyâ€™ll change again in the spring [of 2015].â€
When Zemek learned of the abrupt rule changes on Wednesday, she moved quickly to alert fellow SWA parents that she was calling a meeting to discuss the league at Spring Hill city hall.
â€œWe could only give 24-hour notice for that meeting,â€ said Zemek, whose decision to promote the meeting angered some at the Williamson County Parks department. â€œSome people got a little butt-hurt when we promoted it on Facebook, but Iâ€™m not sure why. Thatâ€™s what social media is for, to get the word out when something important is happening.â€
Â â€œWhatâ€™s most concerning to me,â€ said Zemek, â€œis that all of this was done without any vote from commissioners. They told us, â€˜Weâ€™re doing this.â€™ And really that was it. It was nice to have someone from [Williamson County Parks] come to our meeting and answer our concerns. But they never gave us the reasons why. They just said the changes were being made to get more involvement from girls at the softball signups because itâ€™s been lower than usual.â€
Zemek said that for those who are not involved directly in the league, the changes may seem minor.
â€œTo the naked eye,â€ said Zemek, â€œthis may seem like not such a big deal. But itâ€™s a big deal to the girls. With these changes, the league rules are going backwards. The [competitive changes] were changes we had to fight hard to get changed, and our goal was to have the girls more ready for middle school ball.â€
Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for BrentWord Communications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgÂ or follow him on Twitter @JinkersonGreg.