By Ray Hamill — The opportunities for local girls when it comes to playing softball have never been better.
And as a result, more of them are now going on to play at the collegiate level, something that was apparent recently when 10 local prep all-stars of the game committed to play at College of the Redwoods on the same day.
Of those 10 players, eight have come through Humboldt Fastpitch Softball, a local organization that was founded almost a decade ago to give girls in the area the opportunity to play recreational and travel team softball.
“We want to impact local recreational and high school softball,” association founder and president Kelly Helms said.
One of the primary goals of Humboldt Fastpitch Softball, in addition to giving hundreds of local girls the opportunity to play each year, is to prepare as many of them as possible for the collegiate game, and give them the tools and confidence to compete there.
“They’re really doing a good job of encouraging them to play in college,” CR head coach Maggie White said. “And giving them the skills and ability to do that.”
Local softball players have long been playing at the collegiate level, including White, but there is a growing number of them taking their game to the college level these days.
And those players that do move on are enjoying more and more success when they get there, players like Fresno State’s Hailey Dolcini and McPherson College’s Jenna Christensen, each of whom came through Humboldt Fastpitch Softball in recent years.
“The high school kids here are now actually thinking about moving on to play in college instead of it just being a high school sport for them,” White said.
Humboldt Fastpitch Softball began as a county-wide travel team program in 2009 and added the recreational league two years later.
Along with Redwood Fastpitch, a travel team program out of Eureka, they are the only two youth fastpitch options in the area.
This spring, 375 girls aged 4 to 16 are playing in the recreational league, which runs from mid-March to mid-June, and Helms, who also coaches, typically fields around five or six travel teams for the summer season.
The players come from throughout the entire county and beyond, with girls from as far north as Del Norte and as far south as Laytonville participating.
The association held assessments for the summer teams over the past two weekends, with team selections taking place this week.
The travel teams, known as the Mad River MIST, will compete in out-of-the-area tournaments in June, July and (hopefully) August, while also hosting a few games in the county.
But like many travel teams in this area in many different sports, the travel is a big part of the program.
The MIST mostly travel to compete against top competition in Sacramento or Fremont, and the experience gained at these tournaments is invaluable in developing these young players.
“It’s not about competing in Sacramento and Fremont,” Helms said. “It’s about what we bring back to local softball as a result of competing in Sacramento and Fremont.”
The MIST’s season gets under way in late June when teams from Siskiyous travel to the area, while the recreational season closes out on the weekend of June 7-9 with the Finale Tournament.
Fundamental to the program’s success is the support and participation of many of the area’s top coaches, like Shanna McCracken, Eric Helms, Debbie Brown, Jackie Heuberger and Bob Brown, and importantly, the MIST have also provided a start in coaching for many local players as well.