STRATFORD, P.E.I. – The crack of the bat and yellow ball returned to Stratford diamonds this summer.
Youth in the town had travelled to West Royalty to play softball for more than 10 years, but a group of parents decided to explore the possibility of creating its own association.
More than 140 girls between the ages of five and 14 played for one of the Stratford Softball Association’s seven teams this summer.
And two of those teams recently won provincial championships.
“To say that the 2018 season was a success is truly an understatement,” said association vice-president Troy Fraser. “We are already looking ahead to the next season and building further on the great work that took place this year. On behalf of the association, I extend congratulations to all players and their families who spent their summer with us.”
The Stratford Stealers sent three teams to the under-12 provincials in Tignish with the Stratford Wheel Alignment Services Stealers defeating the host squad 2-1 in the final to complete the tournament with a 6-1 record.
“It was a team effort throughout the season, but the girls really pulled together for this weekend and as a result of their hard work they are the 2018 (under-12) provincial champions,” said coach Wendy Bruce.
Stratford’s other two under-12 squads went 3-0 in the round robin and made the playoffs.
The Darcy O’Connell-coached Stratford CSN-Koughan Autobody Stealers lost 13-7 in the quarter-finals to the eventual gold medallists while Rod Creaser’s Stratford Atlantic Tire Distributors Stealers lost to West Royalty in the bronze medal game.
The Stratford Kevin Quinn Re/Max Stealers went 5-1 at the under-14 provincials hosted in Ellerslie and defeated West Royalty 5-4 in the championship game. Neely Johnston was named tournament MVP.
“I am proud of how our team came together and how hard they played,” coach Jason Campbell said. “They came out strong all weekend, particularly in the gold medal game.”
He had coached teams in West Royalty the past few years but was pleased to see the association get going in Stratford.
“It’s great for the sport and great for communities,” he said.
The squad, which played its home games at Bunbury Field and practised at the Upper MacNeill Field, was a mix of girls who had played in West Royalty, some who had taken time away from the sport and some girls new to the sport.
Softball P.E.I. president Chris Halliwell said the creation of a Stratford association is good news for the game in the province.
“We’re trying to grow the sport,” he said.
Registration across the province was up 100 from last year, and that means more players on diamonds across the province on some fields which had gone silent. It’s music to Halliwell’s ears.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want kids playing sport and being active.”
Provincially, the growth right now is on the girls’ side, but there is some work being done on the boys’ side.
Board members John MacEwen and Steve Noonan, the 2021 Team P.E.I. coach for the Canada Games, are working to develop a three- or four-team under-12 boys’ league for next year.
“Part of our goal is to build the boys’ game,” Halliwell said.
The provincial body also created a new umpire mentorship program this year and about 10 under-14 and under-16 girls took the course and officiated most of the under-12 games.
The Stratford Softball Association had a big first year, but there’s no slowing down.
Its board of directors will be working throughout the winter to plan for the 2019 season. The association hopes to increase their numbers and will be looking to add boys’ teams and/or co-ed teams depending on the interest and ages of interested players.
There are currently some remaining volunteer positions available for anyone interested in getting involved during the winter. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.