Softball season in Columbia County officially begins Tuesday when Evans and Lakeside start their regular-season play with home openers.
As the season begins, the softball crop doesn't appear as plentiful as it once was.
"There just aren't as many girls coming out as there used to be, especially for JV," Evans head softball coach Colette Cassedy said.
Evans will have just enough players to field a junior varsity squad this year. That's not the case at Lakeside High School, where the number of girls interested in playing this year isn't even enough to support a full junior varsity roster.
"We don't have a JV at all," Lakeside softball coach Donnie Burch said. "Bottom line - we have about 14 who are solid about playing. We didn't even make a cut."
Cassedy said the shortage of softball players isn't a problem new this year. It's been more of a gradual decline. The problem also isn't exclusive to Columbia County.
"It's not just here. It's worse in Richmond County," she said. "It's getting to where you can't even find JV games anymore."
No one reason fully explains the dilemma. Local softball coaches have their theories, though.
"Ever since volleyball started up there's been more and more options for teenaged girls," Burch said. "You've got volleyball, travel soccer, cross country and more. It's a good and bad. At least they're doing something."
One of the most popular explanations is a simple one. Blame the weather.
"Take your average 14-year-old girl and ask her if she wants to got out when it's 105 degrees and play softball or go in a gym where its 69 degrees and play volleyball," Burch said.
The lack of interested softball athletes hasn't made its way to Greenbrier High School. The perennial region champions had almost 40 girls tryout for the varsity and junior varsity squads.
Still, the concern for the popularity of the sport is on the mind of Greenbrier softball coach Garrett Black.
"That does worry me down the road with the interest level of fast-pitch softball in the area," Black said. "I really don't have an answer. Soccer's really booming in this county.
"I would like to see our county go to something in fast-pitch softball like we do in soccer. Something to where the travel ball teams work hand-in-hand with the recreation department and try to come up with some sort of organization that way."
That's exactly what the Columbia County Recreation Department has done with the Columbia County Patriots Soccer Club. Since its beginning, the club soccer program has grown to more than 300 participants. More than 1,000 athletes play soccer for the recreation department each year.
The county's volleyball players also have a club team in the CSRA Heat. No club team exists for softball.
No plans are in the works to create a club softball program, but Black said it's something worth looking in to.
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