Behind the lines: Wolverine Softball, Why not?

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

They call it a riser, and it’s just one of the many challenges batters face with a good pitcher in the circle. You’ll notice I didn’t write “on the mound” because there isn’t one in fast-pitch softball.

As a batter, you await a sizzling, high-speed pitch delivered in a quick underhand motion from just 43 feet away.

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That pitch might be a fastball, a changeup, a curveball, or my least favorite pitch, the riser.

High school girls’ fast-pitch softball is a game I’ve always thought would be a blast to coach. It’s a game that mixes hand-eye coordination, speed, power, tenacity, and a tremendous amount of strategy.

After a long, drawn-out process, softball became a high school sport in 2021. The initial requirement was eight schools fielding teams initially, but that has grown to 13 this year, hopefully, there will be a 14th team in cardinal red and black taking the field soon.

As a college kid, a couple of my buddies dated girls on the UW softball team, and the skill set of these gals was impressive. We often chided our buddies that their girlfriends could throw harder than they could. Many of them did have better arms than their boyfriends.

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Softball is America’s game. You’ll find it played in our shortened summer beginning in May and culminating in the first week of August, but in the South, the Southwest, and the West Coast, they play it year-round.

We fancied ourselves pretty good softball players when a group of my friends joined to play in the intramural leagues in Laramie. We made the campus championship one season, before losing 5-3 in the title game to a team that had more ringers than we did. There were over 110 teams that entered that tournament.

A few years later, at Lusk, I played in both the fast and slow-pitch men’s leagues. We often played teams from Douglas, Torrington, Morrill, and Chadron, Nebraska. As a 23-year-old with good speed, I was asked to play on a few traveling teams at rover, third base, and center field. I thought I was pretty good, then we moved to Riverton.

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In its heyday, men’s fastpitch sported 38 teams in three leagues. The A, B, and C leagues were fairly evenly distributed, and we played in the upper section of the B league, going against many of the A teams during the regular season. The women’s division was popular as well.

I was no longer the star. At best, I was just one of the boys, but there were some true stars playing softball in Rivercity back in the early 80s.

It was early in my first season in 1984 that I was introduced to the riser. There was a good team from Arapaho in the league back then, and their pitcher was about 6-5 and could deliver a bullet with his fastball.

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I hit him that fastball the first time into the outfield, but the next time he threw a pitch I’d never seen before. It started just inches off the ground and ripped upward, rising through the strike zone. Three straight pitches, with me taking the first, and whiffing the next two had me back in the dugout. The big guy just grinned at me.

For the rest of that season, and over the next two summers when we played those guys, the catcher would always chant, “Shoot me now, Leroy, shoot me now,” and that riser would roar across the plate.

Just before he threw, the pitcher would grin at me and say, “Hey, riser, you ready?”

No, I wasn’t, I never got a good piece of that pitch. I did foul off a couple, and I reached base one time on a bunt, but just couldn’t hit that pitch.

That’s just one example of the little battles that take place in competitive softball. You can shift, hit away, hit and run, bunt, play small ball, play the long ball, bring in the infield, put the outfield on the fence, or do just about any of a thousand little things that make fast-pitch softball such an awesome game.

There are 13 Fremont County girls and their families that already know this. If it wasn’t the case, why would they spend three hours a day after school just driving to and from Worland to play? Then adding in a couple hours of practice.

Girls from Riverton, Lander, and Shoshoni play for the Lady Warriors, the closest team to Fremont County in the 13-team league that makes up Wyoming Prep Softball.

There are seven teams in the east and six in the west.

The usual suspects of the state’s largest schools make up most of the east conference with Gillette, Thunder Basin, Laramie, Cheyenne East, Central, and South, and tiny Wheatland comprising the league.

In the west, it’s Rock Springs, Green River, Kelly Walsh, Natrona County, Cody, and Worland.

A Riverton program would balance the conferences, keep those 13 girls off the highways a long way from home for the entire spring, and bring a little life back to the old town in the form of a sport that was once the hallmark of Fremont County.

Before softball became a Wyoming High School Activities Association sanctioned sport two years ago. Riverton and Worland were two of the hotbed communities every summer, and the interest remains high.

The Honeycutt Complex is busy with slow-pitch co-ed softball many nights, but many more times the fields are full of girls from eight to 18 playing the fast-pitch game.

There isn’t a venue for boys to advance in high school baseball, but that’s not a reason to not offer the sport to girls.

It’s a great game, and aside from track and field, more Wyoming girls get college athletic scholarships to compete in softball than any other prep sport.

A practice facility is easy to set up at the Babe Ruth Fields directly across from Riverton Middle School or they could just get a portable backstop and set up a practice area on the grass near the tennis courts. As they say, it’s not “Rocket Surgery” to find a practice facility.

The fields on Smith Road would be perfect for home games, and if they needed a grass-free infield to practice on, the fields are already prepped for that.

A coalition of parents and players met with the Fremont County District 25 Board of Trustees at a board meeting last week to plead their case for bringing the sport to Riverton High School.

Both parents and players were eloquent and outlined the benefits of a program here in our county.

I’m sure the board will carefully consider their request, and I hope they decide to bring one of Riverton’s most popular sports to the high school level.

Wolverine softball, it has a nice ring to it.

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