It’s taken several years of steady work to get softball back to the area, and this year the Cache Creek Softball Association has 96 registered participants from ages 4 to 14, who come from all over the region to take part in practices, games, and tournaments.
The association has mixed U7 and U9 teams, and Ashlene Minnabarriet — who has been president for three years — says they have enough U13 players to have a boys’ and a girls’ team. She’s hoping that there will be enough players to allow them to offer U17 play in upcoming seasons.
“The kids come from Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Lytton, Lillooet, Pavilion, and Clinton,” she says. “We have three kids from 100 Mile, and four come from Kamloops, since they don’t offer boys’ fastball there. It’s really grown this year.”
Practices are held every Tuesday and Thursday in Cache Creek, with T-ball for the U7s. Anyone who hasn’t watched, or taken part in, softball for some years will see a major change for the U9s, where the coach is allowed to step in and pitch up to three pitches when a batter has four balls and would normally walk.
“Kids are just learning to pitch at that age,” explains Minnabarriet. “Having the coach pitch encourages more hitting, and gets away from everyone walking, which makes it more fun for everyone.”
She adds that she believes softball is making a comeback, after several years of being eclipsed by soccer.
“I’ve heard from other associations that they have really high numbers this year, and I’ve talked to suppliers selling softball gear who say it’s really in demand; they’re having their best sales in 40 years, which is very exciting.
“I also think it’s something to do with the pandemic. We still played last year, but lots chose not to. This year people are excited that they can play team sports again.”
Practices are for skill building first and foremost, but there are also scrimmages to keep things fun and allow the participants an opportunity to learn things they wouldn’t during skills and drills. “We have days where we use water balloons instead of balls, and usually we would have done that by now, but the weather hasn’t really cooperated,” laughs Minnabarriet.
Coaches and umpires are all volunteers from the community. “We have a lot of coaches — all parents — and they’re amazing. They put a lot of time into it. Some of the parents never played, but they’re having a blast, and they keep the kids engaged and having fun. Without coaches we can’t have teams, and we’re super thankful they volunteer their time.”
Minnabarriet says a couple of the coaches come over from Lillooet. “We want them to take what they learned this year back to the community and start a league there. It would be great, because it would give us someone else to play against.”
The season generally runs from mid-April to the end of the school year. Late last month the U13 teams took part in a tournament in Vernon, where the girls placed third out of 12 teams. “It was the first tournament for the boys, and they learned what they had to work on.”
A tournament in Ashcroft on the weekend of June 11 saw the two U13 teams hosting six teams from 100 Mile, Quesnel, Merritt, and Barriere; at the end of June the girls are off to Enderby for a regional tournament, and in July the boys will be in Merritt for the provincials.
Minnabarriet admits that the equipment needed for softball isn’t as cheap as soccer equipment, but they try to keep it as affordable as possible: “We have community sponsors to help purchase equipment.” Something new they tried this year was Can-Pitch and Can-Hit clinics at the start of the season, which Minnabarriet says they definitely want to bring back next year.
“The kids had a lot of fun, and the coaches learned new things. We also want to do an umpire clinic. We have a lot of parents and band and community members saying they would do it, so we’d like to get them certified. We have a lot of kids moving to U15, and we’ll need umpires as it gets more competitive.”
Minnabarriet has nothing but praise for the young athletes taking part in softball.
“It’s a lot of time for kids to give up to something, but it keeps them engaged. They’re learning a new sport and new skills, on a team where no one’s an all-star. They’re having fun playing softball, and at the same time they’re having fun with their friends.”