There are some big changes on the horizon for the Town of Payson Parks and Recreation Department.
The changes, Recreation Specialist Charlene Hunt said, were done to help make programs more appealing and also in response to feedback received from those who participate in the programs.
Among the changes are:
- Girls softball will be played next spring in a slow-pitch rather than fast-pitch format.
- Youth soccer leagues will be conducted in the spring only rather than spring and fall as in previous years.
- T-ball play will begin May 1 rather than June 1.
- Participants in the adult softball and basketball programs may no longer play in both the recreation and competitive divisions.
- Parents may no longer request their children be placed on specific teams. All players will be assigned to teams on a fair, impartial and random basis.
Spearheading the move to youth league slow-pitch rather than fast-pitch softball was an about face for Hunt.
When fast-pitch softball arrived at Payson High School about 20 years ago, Hunt was among those who campaigned to have local youth leagues, who were then playing slow-pitch, switch to the fast-pitch format.
"I was among those to put pressure on the parks and recreation department to play fast-pitch," she said.
She reasoned at the time that the fledgling players should be playing fast-pitch to better prepare them for high school play.
As sound as the reasoning seemed years ago, the switch to fast-pitch did not produce the dividends many thought it would.
The town-sponsored youth girls fast-pitch program has turned into one in which some hitters go to plate looking only for bases on balls. Action is limited at best.
Coaches have gone so far as to tell their players not to swing but rather wait for the walk.
Because the young pitchers have not yet mastered the skills of pitching, hurlers have difficulty throwing strikes and batters often end up drawing walks.
"There's very little hitting, catching, fielding and throwing now going on," Hunt said. "We wanted to change that by going back to slow pitch where there are more skill-development opportunities.
Through the years, Hunt also noticed that the successful high school pitchers did not develop their hurling skills in the parks and recreation summer program.
"Most of them have done (improved their pitching) playing club ball in the Valley," Hunt said. "There is a lot of emphasis on pitching there."
Hunt also noticed that with fast-pitch, the pool of capable coaches was very shallow.
"Face it, Payson is a slow-pitch town and there is not a lot of coaches who have experience in fast-pitch," Hunt said. "With slow-pitch, we can recruit more coaches from the parents."
In slow-pitch, all of the players will be more involved in the game fielding, hitting, running the bases and flagging down fly balls, she said.
"Slow-pitch will also make it more fun for all and that's a goal of parks and recreation," Hunt said.
For those girls with fast-pitch aspirations, they will be encouraged to join Valley club teams where they can hone their skills.
Soccer in spring; T-ball played earlier
By moving all town-sponsored youth soccer play to the spring, Hunt contends there will be no more conflicts with the Central Arizona Youth Football Association and town-sponsored flag football. When the three leagues were all playing in the fall and had only two practice fields at Rumsey Park, scheduling games and practices was a nightmare.
By moving the start of T-ball up a month, league play will now wrap up by June 1. That should eliminate some of the practice field conflicts that occurred when T-ball was played in June along with Little League, girls softball and adult softball.
The decision to not allow participants in the adult softball and basketball leagues to play in both competitive and recreation divisions was born out of players' complaints.
"There are recreation (division) players who don't want to be forced to play against those in the competitive division," Hunt said. "That's why they signed up for the recreation division, to play recreation-style, not competitive."
Although players can no longer compete in both divisions, they can chose one of those divisions and also play in the coed or 30-years-plus division.
As far as special teams placement, Hunt said she wants to ensure that youth leagues are both fair and competitive.
"We didn't want to have ‘stacked' teams where one gets all the good players," she said.
She also said problems were created when parks and recreation was able to grant some requests, but not others.
"We were always asked, ‘why did that child get on the team he wanted and my child didn't,'" Hunt said.
The only requests that will now be honored are those that involve a disabled child.
Winter and spring 2005 activities brochure will be available soon, detailing all rules and format changes.
For more information, call (928) 474-5242, ext. 7.