Sports column: Slow-pitch’s demise not a shock, still unexpected
It seems like 2019 is the year when things we thought we’d never see in the sports world become reality.
Back at the beginning of the year, Vicksburg’s new sports complex was finally opened after nearly 20 years of debates, starts and stops. It was easily one of those things that had fallen into “I’ll believe it when I see it” territory, yet within six months it has become the focal point of Warren County’s youth sports community.
Over the summer, Vicksburg High and Warren Central installed artificial turf on their football fields. It was another project that had been talked about for years, but struggled to come to fruition.
Then, last week, the Mississippi High School Activities Association finally drove a stake through the heart of slow-pitch softball and eliminated it as a sponsored varsity sport. Like the others, it was something that had been discussed for so long that it seemed like it would never actually happen.
Ever since fast-pitch softball was introduced as a varsity sport in the 1990s, slow-pitch had been on borrowed time. Fast-pitch quickly took over as the more popular of the two, with travel teams and college programs also picking it up. If a player was going to earn a scholarship, they needed to focus on fast-pitch.
A few years later, volleyball was introduced and became a fall season rival for players. Some gave up softball to switch to volleyball, or tried to play both sports.
Slow-pitch stubbornly held on, like a batter fouling off a dozen two-strike pitches to keep an at-bat alive. Before each season there was talk this would be the last, yet it would be renewed for another and the cycle repeated itself each summer.
It was a low-cost offering to a school’s sports lineup. The infrastructure was in place, so it was easy to keep it going.
Coaches gained an appreciation for it as a valuable training period. Offseason workouts are limited by the MHSAA, but because slow- and fast-pitch have so much in common teams could work year-round. Although they played slow-pitch games, the drills they worked on in practice were often more in line with those for fast-pitch.
If the extra practice was an advantage, it was one that teams were increasingly willing to give up. Nearly 100 schools had dropped their slow-pitch programs in the past six years, which was ultimately what killed it as a varsity sport on the state level.
Slow-pitch had become a dinosaur whose time was past. In the end, it wasn’t a shock there was a push to eliminate it. It’s just surprising it finally happened.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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