By Philip Brents
The Bonita Valley 10-and-under girls All-Star team qualified
to defend its Western National American Softball Association championship
the first week in August in San Antonio, Texas. Actually, Bonita Valley will
be out to capture a record third consecutive title after winning the last
two western national championships. Like the United States womens national
team, the local squad has dominated its opponents on the diamond.
But that could change in the near future. With the recent
decision by the International Olympic Committee to drop softball from the
roster of sports for the 2012 Summer Games, goal-setting now takes on a slightly
different meaning for players who now find themselves at the entry level
of the sport.
This years Western National ASA Championships will
feature more than 50 of the top teams in the 10-and-under age division west
of the Mississippi River. Bonita Valley is the only team from San Diego County
that qualified to compete in the prestigious tournament and one of six teams
from California to do so. Bonita Valley carries a 36-6-2 record into the
tournament after competing against some of the top teams in Southern
Californians have traditionally comprised the bulk of
the Team USA roster. The Americans have won all three gold medals since softball
was added to the Olympic roster in 1996. The teams treasure chest also
includes seven gold medals in 10 world championship appearances and six gold
medals in seven Pan American tournaments.
The USA women have truly established themselves as
Americas real Dream Team. Its players are role models for
the next generation of stars. But where will the talented girls from Bonita
Valley and the rest of the players at this years western nationals,
for that matter be playing in 10 years? Certainly not in the 2016
Summer Olympics if the IOC decision is not reversed.
Where will todays up-and-coming high school players
be playing in 2012? Definitely not in the London Games.
Will college careers be enough to aspire to? Or will
many players simply now decided to hang up their cleats after their final
prep contest? Will the absence of softball as an Olympic sport hurt recruiting
efforts at the youth level? Will enrollment numbers drop? Will there even
be enough 10-and-under division teams in this country in 2012 to hold a national
tournament? Those are all interesting questions with no immediate answers.
Understandably, Bonita Valley 10-and-under manager John
Teller expressed disappointment at the IOC decision. Its quite
obvious the girls looked up to the Olympic team for motivation, he
In fact, spectator interest was strong for the softball
competition in the San Diego International Sports Invitational held in June
at the United States Olympic Training Center-Chula Vista. Besides the current
gathering of role models from the United States, also present at the site
were the national teams from Australia, Canada and China.
Team USA defeated Australia for the gold medal, with
Canada taking the silver medal. Teller said the ability of young fans being
able to actually reach out and touch their role models was a
huge motivating tool.
The girls from our league had a grand time getting
autographs. Its a shame thats going to be lost in the future,
While the future may look bleak for Americas future
stars, the decision to drop softball from the 2012 London Games hits hardest
among the current generation of young standouts, particularly Team USAs
up-and-coming college players. The 2008 Bejing Games will likely be the last
for Team USAs core of veteran players. Much was made of the retirement
of the founding core of the U.S. womens national soccer team at the
2004 Athens Games. The same will likely now be directed at the core of
Americas Real Dream Team.
Lisa Fernandez, who is regarded as the current No. 1
player in the world, is 34. She and her husband Mike are expecting their
first child in December. Where will Fernandez be at 41? Where will she be
at 45? More than likely tending to a growing family rather than continuing
to star in the pitching circle. Will the 2008 Summer Games thus be the collective
last hurrah for the U.S. womens softball team? Closer to
home, what will happen to USA Softballs long-term use of the OTC-Chula
Vista, the national team programs (both mens and womens)
official west coast training site that features a regulation playing field
equipped with lights, four full batting cages, pitchers bullpen area,
a practice field and warm-up area?
Likely nothing until after the 2008 Beijing Games. In
that regard, the push to win an unprecedented fourth Olympic gold medal goes
on even stronger now. USA Softball will continue to hold selection camps
for the world championships (held every four years) and other high-level
domestic and international tournaments.
As for 2012? Jennie Finch turns 25 in September. Fellow
standout pitcher Cat Osterman was the youngest player named to the 2004 Athens
squad at 19. It reasons they would be the banner-carriers in 2012 and beyond.
Will Finch now have to settle for her modeling career? Or will that end as
well with softball no longer carrying the Olympic brand? What about lucrative
endorsement packages for Team USAs current marquee players? Will winning
the college Womens World Series be enough?
Of course, softball (and baseball) could make a return
at the 2016 Summer Games. But there are no guarantees at this point. On an
ominous note, polo was the last Summer Olympic sport to be deleted in 1936.
It has not made a return.
If softball is not returned as an Olympic sport, the
world championships would become the sports major player on the
international stage. For the Americans and Canadians, the Pan American Games
would also shine in the spotlight. But both events do not carry the elite
branding, general interest appeal or, more importantly, command the worldwide
television audience associated with the Olympic Games.
The loss of the Olympic brand hurts in the most sensitive
of places but is not likely a death blow, at least, at the domestic level.
But what about in Australia? In Japan? In China? What about countries with
smaller market sports federations that depend on the Olympic branding to
generate both interest and revenue? Is the IOCs decision a death blow
to the sport internationally? Will the Americans have anyone to play after
Has the IOC effectively thrown a curve at Americans
rising softball stars? On a political front, can the exclusion of baseball
and softball American mainstays be construed as a measured
international backlash to our countrys invasion of Iraq and the toppling
of the government in Afghanistan? Would the deletion of American
sports and the inclusion of European inventions such as rugby and golf be
more in tune with the IOCs heavily-European political thinking?
Is there an overall anti-American sentiment at the worldwide
level? Was a secret ballot a way to espouse that? Surprise, indeed.