Staying Sharp: Little League Softball® Brings Community, District Closer Together
In Sharpsburg, Md., Little League® is a way of life for more than 200 children. With fewer than 1,000 residents, the families in this town bordering West Virginia have made Little League Softball® a social event and a primetime attraction.
Founded in 1980, Sharpsburg Little League (SLL) has evolved over the past 35 years. From a league with only a Major Baseball Division, SLL has grown to add younger divisions of Little League Baseball® and five years ago, they filed their first Little League Softball charter.
Jim Roupe, SSL Vice President of Softball, was a league volunteer when the idea of adding softball was first discussed. With support from the league’s Board of Directors and the community, Mr. Roupe started working on making Little League Softball a reality in Sharpsburg.
Working with Sara Thompson, Little League Director of Softball Development, Mr. Roupe and the Little League leadership in Sharpsburg came up with a plan to provide for long-term viability of the program.
“After speaking with Sara, we realized we could sanction three leagues under one charter (through Combined Teams),” said Mr. Roupe. “Now that we knew how we could make it work, we started making calls to parents, got pamphlets in schools, and we did a big push in the fall that offered free clinics for softball.”
Mr. Roupe said the clinics were a big hit with players and parents. Focusing on fundamentals and touting this new opportunity to play, the clinics averaged about 75 children, who enjoyed learning the game and being with their friends, while the parents were thrilled for the opportunity to see their kids having fun.
The first year’s interest and excitement drew nearly 100 girls into the Sharpsburg Little League Softball program. In just five years, the league’s Little League Softball program has grown to offer three Major Division teams, five Minor Division teams, and three Junior Division teams.
“Once we got out to the public and saw we had a big interest, we tried hard to make a balanced league,” said Mr. Roupe. “We didn’t do any specific upgrades to the facilities in the first year, because we wanted to see how things turned out, but in our second year the Board put money into the field to show it was committed to the program.”
That commitment has led to success on the field and off for Sharpsburg Little League. This past season, the SLL Major and Minor Division Softball programs played in the Maryland State championship game. In 2011 and 2012, the Major Division team won the state title and reached the Eastern Region Tournament in Bristol, Conn. Two years ago, the league chartered a Junior Division softball team, and in 2013, the league’s tournament team won the state championship and reached the regional tournament.
“We’re out in the middle of no-where and for our little town, Little League Softball is a huge draw,” said Mr. Roupe. “It’s the community experience and the opportunity for kids to play with friends that makes Little League work.”
Sharpsburg’s success has allowed Little League Softball to grow throughout Maryland District 1 with programs being established in neighboring towns.
“Since Sharpsburg Little League started softball, three other leagues in the district have chartered softball and entered teams in the Minor and Major all-star tournaments,” said Mr. Roupe. “To get games and sustain leagues, our district has organized interleague play and centralized scheduling.”
Mr. Roupe said that a coordinated district-wide outreach is the best way to gauge which leagues want softball and are equipped to operate the program for more than one year at a time. Within the league, he highlighted the importance of making the Little League experience energizing and uplifting for the players and their families.
More information on promoting and operating a softball program is available on LittleLeagueSoftball.org.