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Changes coming for CLRA youth leagues

 

Adam Minichino

 

Roger Short and members of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority staff have been busy preparing for the upcoming youth baseball and softball seasons, and plenty of changes are in store for coaches and players. 

 

The biggest move CLRA will make in 2013 involves a switch from slow- to fast-pitch softball in the recreational leagues. Short, the executive director of CLRA, said the authority moved from slow- to fast-pitch softball several years ago and saw a decline in the number of girls involved, so it opted to bring slow-pitch softball back. This year, though, Short sees the decision to focus on fast-pitch softball as a reflection of changing times throughout the state and the country. 

 

"We're one of the last little pockets of slow-pitch softball left in the state," Short said. "We really picked up on it a lot last year when it came time for slow-pitch state tournaments. Our ASA slow-pitch state tournaments were real small, and it is just time to make that change." 

 

Short said the 7- to 8-year-old softball leagues will continue to be coach-pitch. He said the 9-10, 11-12, and 13-15 will play fast-pitch softball. To aid in the transition for the younger players who might not have been exposed to fast-pitch softball, Short said CLRA will offer three free clinics that will feature members of the Mississippi State University softball program. He said the clinics will teach fundamentals on how to be a fast-pitch pitchers. He said he isn't sure when the clinics will be, but that they will be somewhere in Columbus. 

 

"High schools are still playing slow-pitch softball, but they are really focusing on fast-pitch softball," Short said. "It's a nationwide trend, so we're going to get on board and get the player up to a point where they should be by the time they get to the high school programs. They are going to remain recreational programs, so we want to make sure they have fun." 

 

In regard to the start of the season, Short said the 9-10 teams will begin hitting off a pitching machine to help them adjust to the velocity of the pitching. He said about midway through the season the teams will transition to live pitching by players. 

 

"If we don't get them out there pitching at some point, when they get to the 11- to 12-year-old league, they're not going to know anything," Short said. 

 

Short said provisions will be made that each 9-10 team has someone on its roster with pitching experience or who will be a potential pitcher. He said the transition from slow- to fast-pitch softball is exciting because it figures to help the high school programs have a more experienced feeder system. 

 

"I have talked with several of our rec coaches and some of the high school coaches, and they like the idea of going to fast-pitch softball," Short said. "There is support out there. There is always going to be that little group that loves the slow-pitch game. There is going to be that group that loves the fast-pitch game. Then there is going to be that group like with our Haley (Tutor, Short's daughter, who is a player at East Mississippi Community College) that loves both. She just wants to play the game. ... I just think we have to look at what is in the best interest for the kids. If fast-pitch softball is the way everybody is going, I think that is the way we have to go." 

 

Registration for all baseball and softball age groups begins Jan. 2, 2013, at the CLRA office. For more information, call 327-4935, or visit www.clra.net. 

 

In baseball, Short said the fences for the 11- to 12-year-old teams will be moved from 200 to 225 and 250 feet. He said the change on the fields was made after tournament organizers saw the number of home runs that were hit last year at the state tournament. 

 

In addition, Goodman and Gartman fields will be used for 11- to 12-year-old baseball. Dillon and Shepherd fields will be for 9-10 baseball. The distance for the fences in 9-10 baseball will remain the same. The height of the backstop on Goodman Field also was extended due to its proximity to the street. 

 

Powell and Patterson fields will be for 7-8 baseball. 

 

"We think those things are going to be good changes," Short said. 

 

Another change involves the times of games. Short said baseball and softball games will start only at 6 p.m. while schools are in session. He said the change was made to get players home earlier on school nights. Short said the switch could mean baseball and softball teams have extended seasons or teams might have to play games on Saturdays. If that needs to happen, Short said adjustments will be made. 

 

As far as uniforms, Short said CLRA will move from Major League Baseball-themed uniforms to ones that feature the name of the local sponsor across the front of the jersey, much like CLRA does for its soccer jerseys. The jerseys will be Under Armour type of climate-cool material. 

 

Another change involves the times of games. Short said baseball and softball games will start only at 6 p.m. while schools are in session. He said the change was made to get players home earlier on school nights. Short said the switch could mean baseball and softball teams have extended seasons or teams might have to play games on Saturdays. If that needs to happen, Short said adjustments will be made. 

 

As far as uniforms, Short said CLRA will move from Major League Baseball-themed uniforms to ones that feature the name of the local sponsor across the front of the jersey, much like CLRA does for its soccer jerseys. The jerseys will be Under Armour type of climate-cool material.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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