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After nearly 20 years, WIAA sanctions fall slowpitch softball for 2018-19

The WIAA Executive Board voted at its April 22 meeting in Renton to revitalize the girls slowpitch softball season beginning with the fall season of 2018-19 school year with the potential for a WIAA state championship tournament in 2019-20, pending the number of participating schools.

Slowpitch softball had been a sanctioned WIAA sport for many years, but the season and championship tournament were discontinued when participation dwindled throughout the 1990s.

With the reemergence of the sport offered in several leagues, including the Greater Spokane League, Greater Saint Helens League and the Columbia Basin Big 9, the Executive Board saw a rekindled interest in the sport and reintroduced a sanctioned fall season.

The GSL has long championed the effort to get slowpitch softball sanctioned again by the state.

University HS athletic director Ken VanSickle is the GSL slowpitch coordinator. In an October interview with The Spokesman-Review, VanSickle all but predicted the day the WIAA would again sanction slowpitch.

“Since we’ve been doing it the longest, I think we’re the ones trying to spearhead it,” he said in October.

He worked with the WIAA on the proposal and was happy it was adopted.

“For me, it’s satisfying, but I’m more happy for the slowpitch players across the state of Washington,” VanSickle said on Thursday. “This helps legitimize the sport across the state and gives girls more opportunity to play a varsity sport.”

VanSickle said in October the most important factor in getting the sport sanctioned by the WIAA was simple: participation.

“They’re going to want to see more leagues added and generate more interest and I can see the WIAA saying, ‘We’ll sanction the fall slowpitch leagues,’ which I think will get even more folks involved.”

After the most recent fall season, the top four teams from the GSL and the Greater St. Helens League gathered for an eight-team state tournament in Richland, won by upstart Mead. It wasn’t sanctioned by the WIAA, but everyone in the state was watching.

“It’s exciting for these girls,” Mead coach and GSL slowpitch coach of the year Tiffany Casedy said at the team’s awards banquet in November. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it. First time for state tournament we didn’t know what the other teams would be like. We showed up to play. It was pretty exciting.”

VanSickle explained the significance of the tournament.

“The Greater St. Helens League added (slowpitch) about four or five years ago and they talked and said, ‘Hey, let’s get together because we don’t know where we’re at. We play within our league, let’s see where we’re at,’ ” he said.

Casedy thinks the state tournament opened some eyes with regard to the competition level in the sport.

“It gave everyone different ideas, different ways to go about things. I think for (the Greater St. Helens League) it gave them a little bit more of, ‘OK, we know where we’re at, we know what we can do, and let’s get there again next year.’ ”

Slowpitch softball was the only form of the sport played by schools when it was adopted by the WIAA beginning in 1978-79. As the sport evolved, schools and leagues chose to participate in either fastpitch or slowpitch, with the first WIAA fastpitch championship being held in 1992.

By 2003, all WIAA classifications had transitioned to fastpitch with the last WIAA slowpitch softball championship being held in 2002.

The reintroduction of the sport will be a shift from years past with the slowpitch season taking place in the fall, while fastpitch will remain in the spring, allowing for more opportunities for students to take part in a school-related activity.

“Due to increasing interest in a fall sports season for slowpitch softball, the WIAA is pleased to announce that an official season will begin this fall,” WIAA Executive Board President Lori Wyborney said.

“This is a great opportunity to reach more female athletes and increase the number of students who get the benefits of competitive athletics.”