ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Jamestown slowpitch softball league providing fun, friendship

Jamestown's adult softball leagues are expected to start up in early May this year.

softball gary schmidt 042222.jpg
Gary Schmidt, men's softball coordinator, stands at the Hillcrest Softball Complex and wonders if the weather will delay the start of the upcoming season.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
We are part of The Trust Project.

People are set to get down and dirty this summer at Jamestown's Hillcrest Softball Complex and Gary Schmidt couldn't be more excited about it.

"It is very promising," Schmidt the Jamestown Men's Softball Association treasurer and league representative said. "For the men's teams we have 18 teams registered and we have three 40 and over teams who will compete in the 40 and over tournaments."

The 18 teams will kick off the summer slow-pitch season the week of May 3. League play is set to run through July 25 up at Hillcrest Softball Complex.

The league nights are set for Monday through Wednesday. As of April 25, there are six teams competing each night.

Playoffs are set for Aug. 1-3 and the championship week is scheduled for Aug. 8-10.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fans are not charged entrance fees for the games. Concessions are available during each night of play.

"Softball is a family-and-friends-type sport," Schmidt said. "It's a great place to have comradery and people just want to bond and hang out. It's about fellowship."

RC Courtright couldn't agree more.

Courtright has been a part of the Jamestown slow-pitch scene for the past 31 years. The University of Jamestown alum primarily played baseball growing up, so there was a natural interest when a friend introduced him to softball while attending UJ.

"First and foremost, it is the people that make the game fun - teammates, opponents, umpires, administrators, fans," Courtright said."It can be a very social game, not just among teammates but competitors as well."

In his younger days, Courtright said he bounced between different teams' rosters before settling in to play with the Knights of Columbus team before it folded in 2019. For the last three years, Courtright, along with five other former KC team members, joined the Kensal Merchants team.

"Softball brings a little bit of everything in regards to athletic activity, from those who are simply interested in staying active to the players who are eager for the competition," Courtright said.

"As far as the gameplay itself, slow-pitch softball is a sport where most people have a chance to be effective hitters and get on base more often than not."

ADVERTISEMENT

Courtright said league nights often result in teams heading out to support local businesses after the games. Also, the multiple state softball tournaments hosted in Jamestown annually bring in a number of teams from across the state, most of whom book a hotel for an overnight stay, which results in funds in the city's pockets.

While slow-pitch seems to offer social, physical and economical benefits to players and the Buffalo City, Schmidt said there has been a downward trend in the number of teams competing in the last few years.

When Schmidt first started serving on the league's board of directors 12 years ago, that wasn't the case. Jamestown had teams playing four nights a week with a minimum of eight teams per night, for anywhere between 32 and 36 teams playing each summer.

Prior to Schmidt's time on the board, Courtright said the Buffalo City had enough teams to fill the fields five nights per week. Courtright said Jamestown hosted invitational tournaments - including the very popular Dusk-to-Dawn tournament that was eliminated as housing expanded out toward the complex - and state tournaments featuring some of the top men’s teams in North Dakota.

Since its heyday, longtime players like Courtright have had to watch the sport's numbers decrease not only in Jamestown but across the nation.

In Jamestown, the league has been losing an average of one to two teams per year the last three to four years. Schmidt said the decrease in team numbers is largely due to younger people not playing the sport as much and middle-aged men not playing as long.

"Guys don't try to play until they are 50 as much anymore, they are giving it up more so when they hit 40," Schmidt said. "I feel sometimes like we are doing something wrong (but) really it's a statewide trend — it's not just Jamestown. It's Fargo, it's Bismarck, it's Minot, it's Dickinson, it's Williston."

When Layne Carlson first started playing with his group of friends back in 2015, Jamestown was still boasting eight teams a night Monday through Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Carlson, the team manager for the Building Professionals team, said he has been going to the softball fields since he was a kid to watch his father play.

"After I graduated high school I just got some buddies together and we started a team," Carlson said. "It's mostly the same group of guys that started us off but we have a few new players each year — anywhere from 13 to 15 guys.

"You work all week and it's just nice to take a night to go play some softball, hang out with all your buddies and compete a little bit. It's just something to do."

Schmidt said that Building Professionals is one of the youngest teams in the Jamestown softball scene and while they bring in a solid group of fresh talent to the fields, Schmidt said the number of younger players is still dwindling.

Carlson said one of the main reasons he thinks the number of younger team members is down is because not many take the initiative and go get a sponsor for the team.

"I didn't have anybody tell me where to go but if you just go out and talk to a bunch of people, someone will sponsor your team," Carlson said.

When Carlson's team first started in the league, the team was sponsored through Valley Plains Equipment.

"I actually knew some buddies who worked there," Carlson said. "If you can find somebody who works for a business or corporation who wants to play softball — the business normally has no problem sponsoring you to play ball."

If an individual doesn't have a team or a sponsor like Carlson but still would like to join the league, Schmidt said he will gladly work with the interested party to place them on a team.

If a team would still like to register for the league, interested parties should contact Schmidt or the Jamestown Men's Softball League Association. The current team, league fee is $850 dollars.

"We're open for business and there's room for anybody who wants to play," Schmidt said. "It's an open door and we'd like to maintain our numbers whilst seeing people outside enjoying the sport."

Generating interest among younger players

While Carlson, Courtright and Schmidt would all like to see a boost in the league participant numbers, Courtright said he would also encourage interested members of the younger generations to get involved in softball at the organizational level.

"It is great to have a fresh perspective on the environment or game play that comes from a young player’s peers," Courtright said.

As softball is derived from baseball, which has long been a slave to tradition, Courtright said both sports have been open to evolution in recent years. The longtime league member said getting more young people to help drive that change for them and their successors would be a great way to help grow the sport again.

Courtright said that in Williston, softball boards have been very successful with leagues and tournaments utilizing the 5x5x5 format — a radical twist on the game that pits three teams with smaller rosters against each other in one game.

"Locally, in the not-too-distant past, we held Friday night sandlot tournaments with randomly organized teams," Courtright said. "Other cities are currently trying similar tournaments, albeit with teams determined by a draft. These are all largely ideas driven by younger participants with a perspective not anchored in the traditional game."

While Schmidt and others are working to be creative on the men's slow-pitch scene, Schmidt said the league has made strides in bringing in co-ed teams.

Schmidt said co-ed softball leagues are on the upswing since he began the league back in the mid-2010s.

The co-ed league takes over the Hillcrest complex after the adult men's and women's leagues wrap up their season in early August. The co-ed league runs for seven weeks from Aug. 17 to Sept. 28 on Wednesday nights. Schmidt says teams from Valley City and Bismarck have made the trek over to the Buffalo City to play in the co-ed leagues.

"We've had as many as 16 teams," Schmidt said. "COVID did not help our seasons, of course, but co-ed softball is on the upswing. I think that is due to couples wanting to play together."

Schmidt said interest in the co-ed league could be attributed to the fact that more females are getting involved in the fast-pitch scene and that this gives them another place to play when they're done with their careers in high school and college.

"Softball is fellowship to me," Schmidt said. "I think it's something pretty relaxing for a lot of people and it's something fairly cheap for entertainment for a lot of people. Maybe you can't afford to go to Fargo or Minneapolis for a weekend but you can afford to play for your local adult league softball team."

Carlson added, "In this day and age, with all that we've been going through this is a chance to get out and do something fun with people again.

"From 7 to 9 o'clock you get to play with your buddies then afterwards you get to hang out for a while. It's just something to look forward to every week in the summertime."

Since joining the league 31 years ago, Courtright said he has made some of his closest friends by playing softball, which, for him, has become the best part of slow-pitch.

"When I started playing softball decades ago, I was largely a social misfit who would play the games and  head home immediately after they were finished," Courtright said. "As I grew older, I learned how important that time spent among teammates and friends after the games could be.

"Now, it’s the most important thing for me as the four guys I’ve played with the longest from KCs to Kensal - have effectively become my softball family. I am very grateful for everything this sport has given to me."

Since being told at a Jamestown City Council meeting he should join the city's slow-pitch softball board, Schmidt has made a family of his own, not only on the teams he's competed on but with those on the Jamestown Softball Association's board of directors. Schmidt thanked Andy Kapp and Levi Serfoss for their help in the Jamestown slow-pitch scene.

"It's fun," Schmidt said of the slow-pitch scene. "It's one little way that I can serve the community. I am not City Council material but I can run a softball league. We're ready — let's play ball and get dirty."

Katie Ringer is a sports reporter for the Jamestown Sun. Katie joined the Sun staff in the summer of 2019 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with a degree in journalism. She can be reached by email at kringer@jamestownsun.com or by phone at 701-952-8460.
What to read next
There are four South Dakota pro anglers – Ted Takasaki, Brian Bashore, Mike Zell and Duane Hjelm – who are among the top 40 in the Angler of the Year standings
The event will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 9.
The campers play multiple matches a day to work on their skills.
The events have been going on since at least the mid-1990s.