For the 75 high school softball teams in Missouri that play only in the spring, there could be a state championship on the line as early as next year.
Included on the ballot sent by the Missouri State High School Activities Association to member schools is a proposal to establish a spring state championship in softball. Currently MSHSAA only sponsors a championship series in the fall.
“I think it’ll be great for our girls playing softball to have that opportunity to play for a state championship,” said Sacred Heart athletic director David Fall. “I think it will enhance the ability of smaller schools to offer more sports.”
Voting on the proposal will begin April 1 and run through April 30. If approved by member schools, it will take effect July 1.
“The MSHSAA office does not set the rules; we have a democratic process and the schools control what they want the rules to be,” said MSHSAA assistant executive director Tim Thompson.
Missouri is one of five states where softball championships are played in the fall, the others being Colorado, Georgia, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Mississippi and Oklahoma have both fast-pitch and slow-pitch softball — one in the fall, one in the spring. In Iowa, softball is a summer sport. California does not have a softball state championship and state associations in South Dakota and Wyoming do not sponsor softball. In 40 states and the District of Columbia, softball has spring championships.
Fall sees this as a move toward a more traditional alignment for Missouri, though Thompson pointed out that the spring championships would be in addition to, not in place of, the fall championships. The ballot measure reads in part “MSHSAA shall sponsor two softball championship series, one in the fall one in the spring. Individual member schools can register for one, not both.”
If approved, schools would still be able to choose to play in the spring, fall or both, though schools with both spring and fall softball would not be part of the spring championship series. Missouri would be the only state to crown both spring and fall fastpitch softball champions.
“If you’re going to play in both seasons, you have to play in the fall championship,” Thompson said.
Currently 110 schools play spring softball in Missouri, with 35 of those also playing in the fall. Of the 75 schools with only spring teams, 74 have volleyball in the fall. Thompson said that since these schools tend to be small — of the 75, 58 are Class 1, 14 are Class 2, three are Class 3 — there may not be enough athletes for the schools to sponsor both volleyball and softball in the fall.
“I’m hoping that it will happen,” Fall said of a spring championship. “I think it will help a lot of Kaysinger Conference schools.”
Thompson said this idea has been discussed for several years, but this past fall MSHSAA’s softball advisory committee began seriously researching how feasible it would be.
“They did the legwork to put this together,” he said.
MSHSAA submitted the question of a spring championship as part of a questionnaire sent to member schools and discussed it during the annual area meetings held throughout the state in January. After getting positive feedback, the question went to the ballot to be voted on by all MSHSAA member schools that currently sponsor softball. If those members approve, Thompson said there could be a state championship next spring.
“If you’re going to be a senior next year, we need to put this someplace immediately,” he said.
For Thompson, there are still a few questions that would only be answered after this change takes effect.
“How many schools currently playing in the fall would switch to the spring to create another opportunity for their student athletes? And will this have an impact on girls sports in the spring, like girls track and soccer?” he said.
For teams like Sacred Heart, the 2013 softball season will end in May, around the time baseball teams will be opening district play. The 2014 season might last a bit longer.
“I know it’s been difficult in the past,” Fall said. “They want an opportunity to go into postseason play. In a lot of sports, that’s what they build for. They build to play their best ball going into the postseason. I think it will be a great thing for girls in the area who play softball.”