For the first time in 45 years, young girls from across rural Scott County won’t be taking to the softball diamonds in games sponsored by the Southern Wapsi Girls’ Softball League this summer, while boys involved in North Scott Little League are holding out hope they may still have a season.
For now, diamonds in towns like Eldridge, Donahue, Park View, Princeton and LeClaire are empty after SWGSL league officials decided on Thursday to cancel the summer season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We held off as long we could, but we were getting calls from parents wanting to know if we were going to have a season,” said Kathy Henningsen, who has been involved with the league since its inception in 1975, and has served as president the last 43 years.
“Some parents were concerned about having a whole bunch of people in one spot, especially the littler ones. They didn’t want the big groups.
“Canceling the season is not something I wanted to do, believe me. I kept putting it off, and finally we had to do something. I emailed all of the town reps, and each one said that we needed to say that we’re done.
“It was kind of a group decision,” Henningsen continued. “It’s just sad we can’t play, but it’s probably the right decision to make.”
Henningsen said that COVID-19 cases were still on the rise, and with schools being closed until June 1, she didn’t see being able to play until then at the earliest.
“I don’t think there’s any way they’re going to open up the ballparks and everything, and then people were saying they didn’t want their kids playing,” she said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
The league was started in 1975 by Frank Wood, Kathy Jones and Gary Littrel. Before the age of ASA, it was an opportunity for girls in third grade through high school to form town teams and play against other communities.
Many former North Scott stars got their start in the popular league. Practices typically began May 1, and the regular season consisted of girls typically playing two games a week, with a season-ending tournament in July.
When ASA softball, featuring traveling teams, became popular in the 1990s, the league began to see a slight decline in numbers. However, many girls continued to play in both organizations.
“Our numbers have gone down, just because there are so many traveling teams as well as other stuff going on in the summer,” said Henningsen. “To me, the league is just a summer activity. It’s not year-round where you have to practice all the time in order to play.”
Henningsen, who has a softball diamond in Long Grove named after her, got involved as a coach in the league’s very first year of operation after her mother asked her to coach her 11-year-old sister’s team. Three years later, she was named president of the league, and has maintained that role ever since.
“I’ve always looked forward to this time of year,” said Henningsen, who gave up coaching a team last year for the first time. “I enjoy making out the schedules and getting things organized.
“I’ve never had a daughter to play, but then my nieces started playing and they kept asking me to coach. What’s really tough is that I just bought my granddaughter her first helmet and bat.
“She was going to play T-ball this year, so I’m really disappointed. We’ve been practicing hitting off the tee, and have been working at catching.”
Now, instead of getting ready for the season, she’s busy closing it down before it even got started.
“I just sent out $1,800 worth of refunds yesterday (Thursday),” she said. “I called the bank and I said I needed 36 $50 bills. I didn’t want to come through the drive-up and sit and wait while they found that many, and they were ready for me.
“I addressed all the envelopes and sent them out, along with a little note that said even though we don’t have a season, that doesn’t mean you can’t practice catching and throwing. At least that’s something the little ones can do.
“It’s going to be a strange summer. I’ve spent a lot of time on these diamonds over the past 45 years.”
Little League season is on hold
By now, the North Scott Little League would have been two weeks into its season, with games having been scheduled to begin on April 13.
The league is now in a holding pattern, until at least May 11.
“The last update we received from Little League International (LLI) stated that all league activities have been suspended until at least May 11,” said Kyle Golinghorst, NSLL treasurer and uniform coordinator. “We are still hopeful that we will be able to have at least a partial season, but time will tell.
“I expect we will get another update from LLI in the next few weeks as the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve.”
Until then, an estimated 350 youngsters and a host of volunteer coaches are stuck on the sidelines.
“It’s really unusual,” said Golinghorst. “Normally I come home from work and head to the baseball diamond. Now I’m working from home, but it’s still definitely a change to have a lot of free evenings.
“As far as my own son is concerned, it’s hard to get a read on what he’s thinking. I know he’s missing it, but I think these kids are pretty resilient, and they just kind of adjust to whatever the circumstances are. There are others that might feel a little bit different though.”
Even if the league were able to begin operation on May 12 — and that’s a big if — Golinghorst said it would take at least a couple of weeks to get the kids ready, and for uniforms to be ordered.
“If we do get to the point where we are told we can start playing, we still would need to order uniforms and get all that stuff taken care of,” said Golinghorst. “On one hand, we were fortunate that this all happened within a couple of days from when we were going to order everything.
“If we don’t have a season, that would have been a wasted expense.”
The Little League season typically ends in mid to late June, and that sets the stage for the postseason, which includes district, state and regional tournaments that lead up to the big Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
“The timeline of those tournaments has always dictated everything else,” said Golinghorst. “Our local district tournament was always the first week of July. My guess is that if we are allowed to play, some of that might get moved back a little bit to allow for our regular, local seasons to maybe be extended a week or two.
“But who knows? Right now there are so many questions up in the air that we have no idea what to expect.”