Softball Success in New Jersey District 12 Shows How Interleague Play Can Improve Your District
By Barry Haftel
New Jersey Assistant District 12 Administrator
New Jersey District 12 prides itself on providing an exceptional Little League Softball® experience for players, coaches, parents, and fans. Over the past 15 years, our district has produced 12 State Champions in the 9-10 level which resulted in three Regional Champions. At the 10-11 level, we have had four state champions in five years, and we produced the Junior Division State Champion in 2006. Then, there are the 10 State Champions in 15 years at the Little League Softball level, with four Little League Softball World Series appearances in the past seven years – not to mention a World Series Championship in 2014. That résumé, and those accomplishments were achieved only because every league in the district pushed each other to be better.
Interleague Softball play has been a part of New Jersey District 12 for several decades. The idea came from simply needing additional competition due to the size of many of the leagues in our district. Most leagues carry two teams at every level of competition, which means they either play each other 12 times a season or look for competition outside their league. As a Manager for many years, my team averaged six interleague games a season and our league was among the larger leagues for softball. The extra games and competition taught my players and coaches how to play the game better.
I often credit a sister league with teaching me much of what I know about the game. Watching and competing against other leagues gave me motivation to help improve the quality of play in our own league. I realized quickly that the girls I was coaching had talent and were capable of achieving lofty team goals. That didn’t mean every girl would become eligible for the Tournament team, but it pushed them outside their comfort zone and made the game more exciting. As a result they gained a love and understanding for the game, and were willing to challenge themselves to improve.
As a district, we participate in interleague play for about 35 to 40 percent of our games. We follow the Little League Softball rules and include a few added rules to keep the games competitive. Our district learned long ago at the younger levels we could not promote “walk-fests” due to some teams having less pitching, so we eliminated the walk. During regular-season at-bats, players have to get a hit, or make an out under a pitch count limit.
Another adjustment included controlling the runs scored in an inning. At the younger levels, most catchers are unable to throw out a runner at second base consistently, so we limited the amount of steals of second base in order to keep every single from becoming an automatic double or triple.
These modifications were adopted through the cooperation of every league in the district, from the league with the World Series teams, to the league with only enough players to field a single team for the season. Interleague play is what has built District 12 Softball into a world-class softball district.
If organizing an interleague schedule is not a possibility in your area, Little League Softball also offers expanded special games as an alternative. Special Games provide softball teams with more games, but also serves as an opportunity for tournament-style experience for players whether they are interested in participating in the postseason, or not. Little League teams can also play non-Little League teams as part of the special games option.