SportsEvents Magazine

OCT 2016

SportsEvents is edited for those who plan tournaments or other sports events.

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2017 Baseball/Softball Sourcebook 12 BY PAIGE TOWNLEY Players Of All Ages Are Enjoying Softball Forever YOUNG! you get Sara Van Hook talking about senior softball, she can't help but drop a name or two. "You've heard of Jose Canseco, haven't you?" asked Van Hook, assistant executive director of International Senior Softball Association (ISSA). "He and his brother Ozzie played in our World Tournament of Champions in Tampa. We have a lot of former pros playing. These athletes still enjoy being competitive and we provide quality tournaments for them to be able to still compete." It's no secret that softball is a sport for anyone and everyone. From 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds, millions of people around the world are playing the sport. According to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, softball is one of the seven girls' sports that registered an increase in participation in the 2015 – 2016 year. But the popularity of the sport isn't just increasing with teens. Senior Softball USA is experiencing a sig- nificant growth. The organization's number of nationally carded players has doubled in 15 years and its leagues have expanded from 215 cities in 2014 to 315 cities in 2016. Its youngest group, the Masters, which includes men and women between the ages of 40 and 50, is its fastest-growing segment. "Just a decade ago, we had fewer than a dozen men's and women's Masters teams competing in our World Masters Champi- onships," said Senior Softball USA CEO Terry Hennessey. "In 2015, there were eighty-nine Masters teams." Hennessey expects the Women's Masters to be the fastest-growing segment in the next decade because of the high number of women who were able to compete in or- ganized softball in high school and college who are now in that age group. He expects them to play for many more years. "National senior players are living longer and healthier," Hennessey said. "When I started in the sport in the mid-1990s, the top age group was 70 and there were few teams. Today, our top age group is 85. Players are staying in shape and playing much longer than in previous generations." To maintain the upward trend, Senior Softball USA is making sure to provide plenty of opportunity and excitement to keep players excited to compete. The orga- nization publishes an electronic newsletter every three weeks to keep players abreast of news, tournament results, players and events. It also publishes a quarterly news- paper that keeps players up to date on the latest trends in the sport. The ISSA also has seen a steady increase in its events, requiring it to add more tournaments to its offerings. This year, the organization might realize a 20 percent increase over last year's participation. RB Thomas, Jr., the association's executive director, credits much of the success to the fact that the organization listens to players about what they want. "We keep refining our program and providing the highest-quality tournament experience that we can," Thomas said. "To do so, we put a real premium on selecting destinations that are good vacation spots in addition to great facilities. We are also careful scheduling tournaments, keeping in mind what works best for players as far as time of day, etc. We really work hard to keep player satisfaction high with our events." On the other end of the age spectrum, various organizations are working to increase participation at a young age. Dixie Softball recently started the SweeTees X-play program for children age six and younger. SweeTees is a program where coaches pitch, instead of having players bat off of a T. The organization recently held its first World Series in the age group. "It was very successful," said James "Obie" Evans, president of Dixie Softball. "We are hoping that this new program makes the sport more exciting for players and hopefully encourages more partici- pants." Perhaps one of the largest efforts to reach more players at the youth level is Play Ball, a new program Amateur Softball Associa- tion/USA Softball, the national governing body of the sport. Launched in June 2015 in partnership with Major League Baseball, the initiative encourages widespread partici- pation in all forms of softball among all age groups, especially youth. "This partnership allows us to continue in our mission to grow the game and provide opportunities for youth to get involved in our great sport at any level," said Craig Cress, executive director of ASA/USA Softball. "We've had the opportunity to par- ticipate in Play Ball events throughout the year, and to see the excitement and joy that picking up a bat and ball brings to the kids that attend speaks volume about our game. We're excited to spread that excitement and Softball Spotlight: If Sara Van Hook with Ozzie (left) and Jose Canseco

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