Playing ball, having fun: Participation declines nationwide, but softball remains a big deal locally !

Burlington Recreation and Parks Department’s softball leagues have a strong tradition and continue to provide those seeking fitness an opportunity to play with others in the local community on several of the fields made available at City Park.
The department’s fall leagues kicked off Aug. 18 with 65 teams competing in several league categories. Recreation and Parks director Tony Laws has witnessed the evolution of softball league play since he started working for the department in 1968.
Laws said when he first came to work at the department there were softball leagues for men, women and churches. There were about 40 teams during that period in the late 1960s. The number grew to 150 softball teams during the next two decades.
Laws, who also is a state commissioner for North Carolina on the Amateur Softball Association, said beginning in the early ’90s the number of softball teams began to decline in Burlington, matching a nationwide trend. Fewer churches participated in the department’s leagues and the decline in companies, especially textile companies sponsoring teams, also played a part in the overall decline in the participation of softball.
“This was a textile town and every mill had at least one team,” Laws said. “The bigger mills had multiple men’s and women’s teams.”
How softball is strategically played has changed through the years as well.
Laws said composite softball bats replaced wooden bats. This placed less emphasis on defensive strategy because with composite bats players attempt to hit home runs on every swing.
Laws said the equipment used has outpaced players’ abilities to play the game. The composite bats made with synthetic materials increased ball speed coming off the bat and players sometimes have trouble making plays in the field.
“The defensive part has disappeared,” Laws said. “It’s an offensive game. Now, it’s just ‘see who can knock the ball over the fence.’ ”
Laws said a recent report issued by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers noted that participation in softball has declined nationwide in the past five years by one-third.
“That’s a big drop,” Laws said. “Lots of sports have peaks and valleys and right now softball is in the valley.”
According to Recreation and Parks athletics supervisor Jessica Hicks, the department’s girls’ fast-pitch league remains strong with high participation. Hicks said she believed this was due in part because colleges offer scholarships for girls’ fast-pitch softball, driving demand for girls’ fast-pitch softball leagues.
Hicks and Laws agreed that decline in softball leagues also has been driven by less emphasis on team sports. Hicks said many opt to participate in sports that are individualistic such as running, or extreme sports including rock climbing.
Laws said the Baby Boomer generation helped spur the popularity of softball in the ’70s and ’80s and they are now not as active in the sport. The current generation of youth is more into playing electronic games and staying indoors, he said.

The leagues currently offered by the department include men’s softball, co-ed softball, Friday night church softball and girls’ leagues. The department also offers women’s softball leagues, but there weren’t enough teams to form a league for women in the fall.
Hicks said the women’s softball league will return in the spring. Most league members are from Burlington and Alamance County with a few players coming from Durham, Chapel Hill and Greensboro to participate this fall.
Burlington will serve as host for an Amateur Softball Association (ASA) men’s senior slow-pitch national tournament at City Park during Labor Day weekend.
Laws said Burlington first held a national softball tournament in 1966. There was a break in the city’s being host of national tournaments until 1979, and since then the city has been host to national softball tournaments almost every year.
The department’s fall league will continue through October with softball games played every week. Laws said softball games today are watched mostly by those connected directly to the games, including family members.
“Softball in its heyday was a big spectator sport,” Laws said. “People just came out for the entertainment value.”
Laws said it wasn’t uncommon to see spectators with no connection to the teams come out to watch. Laws said there were really good teams then that people just wanted to see.


Ballfield – Post-Season Renovations, part 2 – Beacon Athletics

Courtesy Beacon Athletics –
It’s August and daylight is on the wane. The sun is coming up later and setting earlier. We are beginning to see a cool night make an appearance on occasion. And many baseball and softball seasons have wrapped up for the year. There will be some fall ball seasons played but football season will take the lead by the end of the month. That means many ball fields are done for the season so it’s time to get to it and get those fields ready for next spring.

Last month we talked about getting the grass back into shape after the season as well as dealing with any lip issues that may have developed during the season. Now, we move to the infield skin itself. This time of year is the best time to do any renovation on the infield skin whether it is minor or major. You have plenty of time to work on it without the threat of an opening day deadline and much more favorable weather and soil moisture conditions.

A season can take a toll on an infield resulting in ragged turf edges and high and low spots in the infield skin. Reestablish your turf edges by running string lines and scribing arcs to mark out where you need the turf edges trimmed back to in order to give the field some crisp, clean edges. If you find that trimming your baselines or infield edges are making those skinned areas too large, you may have to consider placing a strip of new sod in along the edges in order to reduce the width of the baselines or the size of the infield. This is usually inevitable over time where cool season grasses are grown. Southern grasses will grow much more aggressively into the skin areas and therefore trimming edges is a more frequent task where they are grown.

With the lips removed from your field and crisp clean edges reestablished, you can now use a string line to evaluate the condition of the surface grade of your infield skin. By stretching a string line from the front turf edge to the back turf edge of an infield, we can instantly see the condition of the surface grade of the infield skin. High spots will push the string up while low areas will leave a gap between the string line and the infield soil surface. When checking the grade, make sure that the string line is pulled as tightly as possible otherwise the line may sag providing incorrect readings of the surface grade. Take a survey of the infield by running string lines in several locations around the skin to check for the amount and magnitude of high and low areas on the skin. In general, high areas will typically occur on the first and third base corners of a baseball infield skin as well as along the back edge along the back arc. Low areas will commonly occur in leadoff areas around bases, fielder’s positions and the front edges of the infield skin.

It is important to rectify these issues as soon as possible as these imperfections in the surface grade of your skin areas can create major headaches in rainy weather when you are trying to drain the field. IF you are lucky, you have the budget to call in a sports field contractor to repair the surface grade and improve its performance. If not, this work can be done on a low budget basis by doing it the old fashioned way, by running string lines and using your nail drag, rakes and level boards to manipulate the surface by cutting the highs and filling the lows to achieve a smooth and consistent surface grade.

If you have historically had problems with the performance of your infield soil, an Infield Soil Test can be performed to look at the physical makeup of your soil. A test will expose any weaknesses in the make-up of your infield soil — Beacon can provide this service to you, contact us for more info. With the innovation of DuraEdge™ and FieldSaver™ “engineered infield soils” in the past decade, it has become easier and financially effective to fix most problem infield soils without pulling out the old soil in most cases. The late summer and fall season is a great time to make adjustments to your infield soil using these materials. A balanced infield soil and the perfect grade will provide you the ultimate playing surface.

Finally, I’d like to mention a common question I get here at Beacon. Customers will often call to ask me how to keep weeds out of their infields and warning tracks. You can spray Roundup (Glyphosate) or other non-selective herbicides onto these areas but more than likely the weeds will return. The best way to prevent weeds on an infield skin or warning track is to continue maintaining the surface by dragging it about twice a week. This should be done throughout the remainder of the growing season. It will also keep the field smooth for surface drainage. There really is no other magic way of suppressing those weeds


Project Services Group

– Paul Zwaska is the former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles; You can learn more at Groundskeeper University.


Is a League Liable for Faulty Sports Equipment ?

Concerns regarding older equipment
We received a phone call from a youth lacrosse club coach who was concerned about the use of 20-year-old helmets that haven’t been reconditioned or re-certified. He wanted to know if he could be liable in the event of a head injury to a player since it his responsibility to verify to the referee prior to the game that all equipment is in safe operating condition. He also wanted to know if his General Liability policy would cover any potential lawsuit.

The short answer is that league administrators and coaches are responsible for the following aspects of equipment safety:
Long-range planning for the repair, refurbishment, and replacement of helmets. These decisions need to be made far in advance as they can take time to budget and complete.
Confirming helmets meet current National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) requirements, as well as the requirements of the sports governing body.
Helmets should be inspected for defects in post season, pre season, weekly, and prior to any game or practice.
Maintaining repairing, and conditioning equipment on a regular basis.
Reconditioning to “like new” basis of safety equipment such as helmets should be performed by a reputable reconditioning business as opposed to an on staff trainer. NOCSAE may require re-certification.
Replacing helmets on a periodic basis per manufacturers recommendations.
Record keeping for documentation purposes on all of the above.
There is no doubt that many of the above outlined principles may have been violated and the coach is justified in his concerns about liability.

General Liability generally don’t have an exclusion for lawsuits arising from of injuries due to failure to follow proper equipment safety protocol as outlined above. Therefore, coverage is likely to exist under most policies. However, a minority of policies may have a punitive damages exclusion. Willful disregard of known safety protocol could result in punitive damages. In addition, any litigation, even if covered by General Liability insurance, results in a black eye for the program and pretrial discovery and litigation is an emotional drain on league administrators and coaches.

For a more detailed resource on Equipment Safety, see our Risk Management Program For Sports Organizations