CENTERBURG — Softball players at Centerburg High School won’t get the chance to score a run, turn a double play or steal a base this season. On Monday, the Centerburg Board of Education suspended the program for the 2009 season after only five players came out for the preseason practices. With such a small number, it was impossible to field a varsity squad, let alone a junior varsity as well.
“It really was a decision that was forced because of a lack of participation,” said Centerburg athletic director Jim Stoyle. “The coaches, obviously, did some recruiting to try and get more kids to come out, but there are a lot of factors why kids aren’t playing. We had everything from our track team taking some kids away, kids playing AAU basketball and (junior olympic) volleyball to our school play is going on. This is a trend we’ve seen over the last few years. It has been a steady decline in female participation. ... We weren’t really sure until we got into practice, and then it was worse than we thought.”
Stoyle would like the public to realize this is not a permanent decision. He, along with head coach Larry Lloyd and the coaching staff, want to work toward next year and establishing a viable program.
“We suspended the program for one year, and we’ll try to do some rebuilding,” Stoyle said. “Our coaches have already been out having meetings with the younger groups of kids. He is hoping to draw some interest and enthusiasm over the next couple of months and work with our middle schoolers. He’s trying to get those kids interested. Hopefully, we can restore the program next year.”
A decision like this could not be made hastily, and Stoyle was hoping this is one that would not have to be made.
“It is always a tough decision and I feel bad for those kids that wanted to be there,” said Stoyle. “I really believe from an athletic standpoint, the three-sport athlete used to be the trend. Now, the norm is a two-sport because it is more practical. Everything has become such a year-round activity. Kids also have a lot of other options today.
“There is no single reason or factor that brought about this. It was a combination of several, but it is disappointing because you hate to suspend a program like we’ve had to. We didn’t have any other choice.”
Oftentimes, athletes withdraw from participation due to the expense involved or lack of winning. Stoyle said the Centerburg athletes, who do not have to pay to play, didn’t express any of those sentiments.
“I talked to every girl that played last year and should have been returning, and losing was never an issue with them,” Stoyle said. “Obviously, nobody likes to lose. Some of them felt a lack of commitment from other players, which led to their decision. I think that there is some optimism that the program can be restored, but it has got to start at the youth level. It is not just a high school issue.”
With a commitment from the coaches, Centerburg has already begun the process of building for the future. It is hoped, that over the next few months, a solid foundation can be laid to get the program back on its feet.
“I had a long meeting with our coaches, and they responded real positively from the standpoint that they are not going to walk away with the program in this shape,” said Stoyle. “They are going to continue to work hard and spend their spring working with the kids. Obviously, they are not going to get paid this spring and they understand that, but they are going to put the time in. They’ve attended a youth meeting and they’re offering their services to the summer leagues. They are just trying to get the kids interested in softball. Hopefully, we can establish something going into next year.”