Solent Softball League making development strides

Wed 6 Aug 2014

On Tuesday 29 July, the Solent Softball League facilitated a workplace softball event in Southampton arranged by the local County Sports Partnership, Sport Hampshire and IOW.  The four teams that took part enjoyed playing a new, mixed sport.

The aim is that these teams – or at least the individuals who played in them – will join the new Southampton base of the Solent Softball League (SSL), a project that BaseballSoftballUK and the league have been working on together this season.
 

Developing Southampton

Following meetings between BSUK staff and SSL Development Officer Andy Burgess and Chairman Will Taylor, various development programmes have taken place over the past eight months with the aim of growing the league and introducing the sport to a wider audience across Southampton, a major town on the South Coast.

Thanks to two very successful indoor and outdoor beginners' programmes, two new teams have formed this season – the Southampton Spitfires and the Portsmouth Zombies.  BSUK has been active in supporting this work, including a grant to help with new activity in Portsmouth and Southampton.

Andy Burgess said: “Our main priority for the past few years has been to try and get softball more established within the Southampton area.  Up until now, we’ve had a couple of teams based around there but nothing actually within the city itself, which has meant that most players with an ‘SO’ postcode have had to make the trip over to our main Portsmouth venue to be able to play or practice.

“Due to the continuing success of our indoor recruitment programme,” Andy continued, “which has proved to be an invaluable way of finding and training new players during January, February and March each year, it was decided to replicate this as a way of getting a foothold in Southampton.  The key to the whole thing was finding suitable venues, not only for the indoor sessions but also for the subsequent outdoor season. These venues needed to be within the city so that we could provide softball for local people using public transport.

“After a lot of off-season correspondence with the local City Council and Sport Councils, we were finally able to set up an indoor programme at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College that enabled us to recruit and train over 20 new players, some of whom then went on to form the brand new Southampton Spitfires Club.  We also found the club a home venue at the Outdoor Sports Centre in Basset, where they are currently playing all their home fixtures as a member of the Solent League’s Second Division.

“Whilst the Spitfires have struggled for regular numbers at times,” Andy concluded, “it is easy to see that they are well on the way to establishing a firm and solid player base which it’s hoped will eventually evolve into several other teams in future years.  It’s a common belief that Southampton will eventually grow to become a softball stronghold within the Solent League simply due to its sheer size and population, but for now we’ve finally managed to get a foot in the door at least!”

Developing Portsmouth

Meanwhile, at the other end of the M27, indoor sessions in Portsmouth over the winter managed to produce yet another brand new league team for the 2014 season.

The Zombies have also competed in the Second Division this season, and are another indoor recruitment success story.

Andy Burgess said: “An important factor in the creation of both the Zombies and Spitfires this season was the ability to find people to fill key positions within those emerging teams – i.e. brand new team captains and existing SSL coaches who were willing to help them.  A special mention must go to both Jerry Borel from the Zombies and Matt Andrews from the Spitfires who took that extra step and volunteered to take on the organisational roles within these teams.”
 

Other activity

Another event that the Solent Softball League will be involved in will be the upcoming Southsea Show, where the league will have a demonstration area and batting cage.  This will give the SSL a great chance to promote its adult softball league as well as new youth programmes created this year by the Chichester Falcons and Southampton Mustangs Baseball Club -- a great example of joined-up effort to support the development of the baseball and softball in the area.

The Falcons have set up a successful youth fastpitch programme at their Oaklands Park venue in Chichester, which means that the Solent League finally has the ability to offer something to young people aged 12-16.

Finally, the league has made another breakthrough this year in utilising local media, mainly thanks to Sefton Chatfield in his role as Publicity & Media Officer on the SSL Committee.  Sefton has worked tirelessly to establish a weekly softball column in the local newspaper, which has resulted in a more enquiries from people interested in coming along and having a go.

Reactions

BSUK South East Development Manager Patrick Knock said: "It's great to work with a proactive League that is keen to set up new programmes to grow participation in the sport.  There is big potential around the West Sussex and Hampshire area and the league, as well as clubs such as the Chichester Falcons and Southampton Mustangs, are expanding their reach and offer.  I look forward to working closely with all the clubs in the area to maintain and build on the great work done over the past year."

The Southampton Spitfires are now halfway through their first season in the Solent Softball League.  Team captain Matt Andrews said: “We've had a great first year and personally, I'm feeling very positive about the future of our team.  We've learned something new from each game that we've played and even had some well-earned victories along the way!  We now have a really good idea about what works well for us, and more importantly where we need to improve, and this will help drive us forward.

“We've worked hard to recruit new players throughout the year,” Matt added, “and enjoyed meeting other people who share our enthusiasm about softball.  We're looking forward to the next season and becoming a more established team within the Solent Softball League.”

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