McIntire safe: But girls still outside the fences
While softball-playing patrons of McIntire Park have hit a home run saving the park's two historic fields, an ever-growing population of users have yet to score with the park's survival. Area girls softball leagues have sought equal playing time and field access in the city and county for years– and despite making some waves, are still relegated to stand aside for the adult and boys baseball leagues.
"We have access to McIntire– sharing it with the travel teams– and the city and county gave us two nights at Darden," Robert Collins, Albemarle Fastpitch Softball league director says. "But that doesn't even come close to solving our rec league problems. I don't have enough fields to accommodate everybody."
For an increasingly popular girls sport, the minimal access to Darden and McIntire have served only to show the girls the quality they could be getting all the time– but don't. According to Collins, his recreational league has grown in leaps and bounds in only two years time, currently composed of 220 ambitious girls. While the girls he coaches are fresh-faced and motivated, the hassle of moving from field to borrowed field, along with limited access time, has left the league scrambling to accommodate the increasing interest.
"Probably 40% of our program are girls who are really dedicated," Collins says, "playing now because they want to make that high school team."
Each rec team– with girls from age eight to sixteen participating– practices twice a week at either Azalea Park, Tonsler Park (which has a grass infield and cannot be used for games), McIntire, Darden, or Albemarle High School. But once games start up, teams are relegated to once a week or no practice in order to accommodate game times– and make room for the travel league's tournaments and adult games.
While access to Darden and McIntire has allowed the rec league to expand its practice and game times, the strain of such a large league on limited resources continues to show. Many of the teams go on to compete in the post-season All Stars program, where they play against teams from Greene, Madison, Orange, and Shenandoah County– but is their talent lost on lack of playing time?
Travel league coordinator and softball mom Anne Powell insists the city and county have finally made room for girls softball amidst the area's growing softball crowd. The travel league has been able to bring in larger and more competitive tournaments to the area– yet it is only composed of around 40 girls, with far less field space needed than the rec league. The city and county have begun to slowly open their softball fields to a newer niche of players– but according to Collins, for a large percentage of girls, it is just not enough.