The Black Knights did not have enough girls signup for a softball team for the second straight season.
As softball teams across Geauga County began seasons this week, Newbury once again could not generate the interest to field a team.
In an email, Athletic Director Paul Toth said very few girls expressed interest during the two-week signup period.
“Most of those desiring to play have very little to no previous experience in the game,” Toth wrote. “A successful varsity program needs a feeder like the Rec Board programs to fire up the interest in the game and to teach the fundamentals of the game while sharpening their skills.”
Softball, once considered one of the major three team sports an athlete could play, has been declining for years in the community, says Guy Munn, a school board and community rec board member.
“And it’s not just Newbury — it’s Geauga County,” Munn said. Chagrin Falls has also failed to field a softball team this season. “The numbers are down, period, in terms of how many kids there are out there.”
Nor are the Black Knights new to threatened, endangered or extinct programs.
Declining enrollment and opportunities are two reasons the school district is exploring consolidation with Berkshire.
“I think it has to do with kids specializing in sports,” said Carrie Hinkle, a Newbury graduate who now teaches at the school. Hinkle was last year’s varsity softball coach before stepping down after the 2012 season. “It’s hard to find a kid who plays three sports these days.”
“I’m shocked,” said Newbury Superintendent Dick Wagner, who has coached pitching and played baseball off and on for 40 years. “I don’t get it. Maybe I’m getting to be a curmudgeon, but as your school begins to shrink, there is a lack of interest.”
In this offseason, seniors like Jocelyn Schanzel and Holly Smith tried to recruit enough girls to field a team. Crystal Modic, a junior, was also excited.
But only about six girls fully committed.
“I am disappointed!” Modic wrote on Twitter. “Just not enough girls that want to go out for it. And the girls that signed up are not experienced!”
“It’s sad,” said Hinkle, “coming off a team that had some success. But there is some hope. I think the seventh and eighth grade girls have some numbers.”
Munn has also watched numbers decline from his seat on the rec board, particularly in softball. “It hasn’t been good for eight to 10 years,” in fact, he said. “It’s not shocking. It’s been going on.”
Currently, there are age groups in Newbury with no rec teams at all, Munn said. And others may have one or two.
Munn has talked with other rec board members about bringing slow-pitch softball back to the younger ages, a move that could generate more interest. But he doesn’t like the approach because that isn’t what the girls will be playing in high school.
Meanwhile traveling teams are booming, probably because they’re made up of multiple communities’ athletes, said Munn, who umpires for a traveling softball league.
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