About 90 boys and girls hit the diamonds at Virgil Sports Park last Wednesday for the relaunch of NOTL Minor Softball.
Club president Peter Flynn explains that the pandemic aftermath forced a couple of changes to the club’s divisions. The usual offering of four age groups, encompassing ages three to 14, has been pared down to two groups. Unfortunately, the squirt (nine to 11 year olds) and peewee (12 to 14 year olds) divisions will not be running this summer.
“We have the Learn to Play division for three, four and five year olds,” Flynn explains, “but we added six year olds this year, because everyone lost a year last summer. We’ve divided them up, with three and four year olds, and then five and six year olds.”
Those ages run Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., with kids rotating through different stations, concentrating on learning the skills of the game. Flynn says the goal is to keep them moving at all times, with stations focusing on throwing, hitting and exercising for the full hour.
“We get those little three and four year olds running from home plate all the way out to the big fence on B diamond, and back,” Flynn exclaims. “Then we do a cheer. I’m hearing from the parents about how happy they are to see their kids active again.”
The next division, which takes the field at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, has also been revamped for 2021.
“Coaches Pitch used to be ages six, seven and eight,” he explains, “but now we’re doing seven, eight, nine and 10, to get back that one year that some kids missed. Unfortunately, due to COVID, and moving to a new website, we only had nine older kids sign up.”
Flynn says the organization has become comfortable in its role as a “starter point” for youth interested in baseball and softball. Over the past few years he has seen more of the peewee players (ages 12 to 14) moving on to play hardball in St. Catharines or Niagara Falls, or fastpitch at the Grantham Optimist Club in St. Catharines.
The overall emphasis for NOTL Minor Softball has always been on developing skills and a love for the game. That hasn’t changed with the new revamped age groups.
What has changed is a set of protocols that has required parents to keep their distance on the fields. For Learn to Play, kids are reminded to use hand sanitizer at the start of practice. The coaches have a bucket of balls that are regularly disinfected. Kids are handed a ball to use, and that is theirs for the duration of the session. They return it at the end, when the whole bucket is disinfected once again.
Thus far, participants in both age divisions have been organized into groups that are capped at 10. This week provincial regulations loosen up enough to allow up to 25 people together for outdoor activities. Flynn says they will for now stick to the groups of 10, but the larger number may allow for them to soon move into game play for the older kids.
Of the first sessions on the field, Flynn says, “everyone had a really good time. So many parents were commenting about how happy they were to be out there, and to see soccer out there too. And they were happy that we were able to make an agreement on the times with soccer so that some kids could do both.”
Though registration is closed online, Flynn says the club will still accept some last minute registrants depending on space in the age divisions. Interested parents should call him at 905-327-1620, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.