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A pitch for 'a great sport'


Kathy Lecompte looks at the girls from along Mountain Road signing up for her softball program, and she hears the buzz. She thinks she's beginning to see the result also. So does Otis Prestridge, who lives in Glen Burnie and coaches in Brooklyn Park.

The buzz among young female athletes these days is about soccer - and/or lacrosse. It's not about softball.

And, if you ask those adults who love softball and work at passing along skills they learned as youngsters to their daughters and their friends, that buzz is getting louder.

"Soccer is really the up-and-coming sport," said Lecompte, who heads the small Havenwood Softball Club, which has seven age-group teams with players as young as 7 and as old as 20. "My weaker areas these days, as far as skills go, even when the girls are just starting out, is in the younger age groups. That hasn't been so in the past."

Said Prestridge, who coaches his daughter's 12-and-under softball team, just one of two remaining girls teams in the small Severn Athletic Club: "It seems that lacrosse is coming around, pretty big. There's no real program for them in Brooklyn Park, but it's true a lot of girls are interested. They hear about it in school, and they're talking about it."

Not that softball is about to collapse as a sport anytime soon.

County rec department leagues had 71 youth teams this spring, and many other teams compete in community-oriented leagues not affiliated with rec department operations.

However, that county total is down 10 teams from a year ago, which Ron Mox, a sports supervisor for the county rec department, said may be a cyclical thing.

However, in the next breath, he said, "I don't see one organization really pushing softball. It's kind of sad. ... But spring soccer is huge. We have about 235 teams playing, and girls lacrosse is growing, too."

While the quality of fast-pitch softball has earned some Anne Arundel County high school teams respect in Maryland, over the past decade or so soccer and lacrosse in the county - as well as elsewhere - are on major growth spurts. Precise numbers, though, are difficult to pin down.

There are multiple reasons, say people involved in youth sports such as Lecompte, Prestridge and Mox.

Those reasons begin with soccer and lacrosse pushing spring and fall seasons with indoor play possible during the winter, instead of softball's one, long season.

They include parents liking the certain time limits for soccer and lacrosse matches, versus softball games that vary in duration. There's a "fun factor," too.

"In softball, especially at the youth level, there's a lot of standing around - it's pitcher and catcher, for the most part," said Mox. "But in soccer and lacrosse, there's action, and everyone plays."

One other reason for increased interest - and parental hope, whether justified or not - in all girls rec sports is the perceived allure of college scholarship money.

Many colleges have added soccer and lacrosse for women athletes in recent years and are actively recruiting. Areas such as Anne Arundel, where lacrosse is considered to be top-quality at the public high school level, are focal points for recruiters.

But high school coaches and guidance counselors will tell you that most scholarship aid for so-called "nonrevenue sports" such as soccer and lacrosse is partial in nature, and few young athletes nationally in those sports receive full scholarships.

Local interest in softball isn't waning in at least one county youth organization, the Severna Park Green Hornets, one of the largest and most diversified Anne Arundel youth sports groups.

The Green Hornets have had plenty of interest, said softball commissioner Doug Hofstedt, to add a team of 14 players in each of three recreation-level age groups this spring.

He attributes some of it to better marketing by the club. That has ranged from spreading the word through the school system to, for the first time, having jackets made for girls who participate.

"The girls - their parents, of course - pay for them, and the girls wear them to school, and the jackets identify them as softball players," said Hofstedt. The club has worked out summer camp arrangements with Severna Park High School, and participants get T-shirts that demonstrate interest in softball.

"With girls, especially, it's important to know what your friends are doing, and sometimes taking part in that, too," Hofstedt said. "I can't say it's any one of those things [that has increased player rosters], but I do think it's helped us.

"We try to hook them young - before they can start with lacrosse - and teach them how to play the game right and make them understand why it's such a great sport."

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