The idea came from wanting to take a break. Ahwatukee resident Todd Heaton’s 11-year-old daughter had been playing soccer and wanted to try something different.
They decided that softball would be their next sporting venture, but there was a minor problem: Ahwatukee Little League only had three softball teams, not enough to field a full league.
So, instead of playing each other over and over, Ahwatukee Little League partnered with the city of Tempe to give the girls a league to play in.
“By doing that we were able to get three teams that were U12 (in to a league),” Ahwatukee Little League Commissioner Rob Lowe said. “They were able to face (other) girls and more teams.”
With a team in place and a league to play in, Heaton set off on the next part of the journey, trying to take a group of girls who had never picked up a softball mitt and turn them into a competitive team.
Almost all of the girls played other sports already so the underlying athleticism was there, what was needed was to teach them the tools for softball.
The most difficult of which, on the surface, seems to be the most critical and most obvious: throwing.
“Their ability to throw just wasn’t natural, so we had to teach them to get the ball behind the ear when making the throw and that was probably the biggest hurdle,” Heaton said. “Batting actually came a little easier than I thought it would, it was the throwing that was the hardest challenge.”
After a few practices to iron out basic mechanics, the girls quickly picked up on the nuances of situational play and knowing where to go with the ball in any given situation on the diamond.
In 11 games played, Heaton said they won five or six. Since it was the team’s first season, and they did not know anything about softball to start out, it was pretty impressive.
But then came the postseason, and that’s where Heaton’s team really picked up steam.
They rolled into the championship game of the tournament with only one loss in the double-elimination format. Their foe was an undefeated team that had been playing together for roughly four years.
In order to win the title, Heaton’s team would need to beat them twice. His team won one game, but couldn’t win the second. They came close to winning a title in their first year, falling 10-7.
“It was a pretty special season,” Heaton said.
Now, Heaton and Lowe hope that through their success, they can get more girls to join Ahwatukee Little League softball and continue to grow the game in town.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to see the growth that we’ve had,” Lowe said. “Our goal is eventually to have (a league) entirely in-house so we don’t need to partner with anyone else.”
— Contact Eric Smith at 480-898-6549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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