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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO

Softball Remains Popular, but Not Like Before

July 08, 1999|FRANK SCHWAB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob Thrall, the senior recreation supervisor in Huntington Beach, remembers a time in the late 1980s when he had enough slow-pitch softball teams to fill each of the city's nine fields on a regular basis.

"I never advertised [the leagues] in the paper or anything," he said, "because we were hoping we could get some time when the fields were idle and we could recoup."

Lately, Thrall has had the time to brighten up the softball fields of Huntington Beach, although it didn't happen by choice.

Slow-pitch softball experienced a boom in the late 1980s and early '90s in Orange County, and although the number of men playing in city recreation leagues remains high, the numbers have fallen off somewhat due to other sports.

"I've noticed that roller hockey, flag football and adult soccer and its popularity have caused softball numbers to dip a little," said Lloyd Huntley, the slow-pitch softball league director on Anaheim's west side.

According to Huntley, another possible reason for the falloff in softball's numbers has been the lack of business sponsorship for teams. Ten years ago, many local businesses sponsored a team--or several. Recently, these businesses have cut back on their sponsorships, and some have cut it out altogether.

Thrall has overseen adult slow-pitch leagues in the city for 31 years, and he said the number of teams competing has gone from around 400 in the busy summer seasons between 1989 and '92 to only 295 teams this summer.

"It was crazy, there were so many people wanting to play," Thrall said. "I'm not worried. It will all come back. It's just a phase right now."

Huntley has been a league director in Anaheim for three years. He used to be responsible for about 150 teams, but today it's down to about 100 for the 10-week summer league.

He says he's not worried because he has a large number of players who will never give up the sport.

Huntley and Thrall each cited coed leagues as a stabilizing force in softball's numbers. Most of the leagues that have taken a hit are men's leagues, not the leagues with men and women players. Thrall said that out of his league's 295 teams, 97 are coed, and that number has remained stable the last 10 years.

Dave Johnson is the founder and president of Major League Softball Inc. in Burbank, a business that provides services such as field maintenance, umpires and scorekeeping.

As Johnson sees it, Orange County's slow-pitch softball programs have been hurt by people moving to nearby communities.

"We see areas adjacent to Orange County that are booming," Johnson said. "And Orange County is still strong, it just isn't like it was in the '80s."

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