CAMDENTON, Mo. — After three years of struggling to regain momentum, Camdenton Youth Softball League leaders say the league has seen promising signs of growth this year. “Our softball teams have had great success in both wins and player development, and the girls are already looking forward to next season,” coach Keith Lucas said. Camdenton teams participate as part of the Tri-County Baseball & Softball League, competing against recreational teams from Camdenton, California, Eldon, Osage Beach, and Tipton.
In 2015, when a local softball organization closed, Camdenton Youth Baseball League was the only local option for girls who wanted to continue playing softball. But some softball parents were disappointed with the way the league handled the situation. “I think the league leadership did the best they could when the other softball league folded, but it left some coaches and parents unhappy because of cancellations and miscommunication,” said Lucas, who now serves on the league board. “Some felt softball was treated as less important than baseball.”
Many Camdenton softball parents moved their players to Lebanon and Osage Beach because both leagues had more established structure and more teams. Some turned to travel softball as a way to keep playing, by building teams of area girls. National softball numbers have declined in recent years, too, with the emergence of other spring and summer sports and activities. In 2018, 9.59 million Americans played softball, down from 12.15 million in 2008. Dance and travel basketball, volleyball and soccer are competing for parents’ and kids’ time and money.
Seeing the uphill battle, the Camdenton Youth Baseball League took extra effort to promote softball and the league’s new leadership on social media. “We hoped by promoting the Camdenton Youth Softball League as a part of the baseball league but as a separate entity, it would bring folks back home to Camdenton,” Lucas explained. The results were mixed. The 10-and-under age group had just enough for two teams, the 8-and-under group only could field one team, and the 14-and-under age group didn’t have enough registrations to form a team.
The 12-and-under age group was the most encouraging example. Things looked rough at first: the formal registration period ended with only 7 players. “We made a push for parents to spread the word that we need players and that we wanted players even if they had no experience,” Lucas said. The invitations and encouragement worked: the group quickly grew to the point that they divided into 2 teams of 11 before games began.
Overall, Lucas says league organizers would have liked to see even more participants and teams, but they were encouraged by the feedback from parents and strong results from “grassroots” recruiting in the 12U group.
“Our hope is we have done enough this year to grow Camdenton softball more next year. The girls have hopefully had so much fun playing this season that they will encourage others to play, with or without any experience,” Lucas said.
For more information about Camdenton Youth Softball League, follow them on Facebook and go to camdentonyouthleague.org.