May 17, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorRiverton's Little League fastpitch league is back for another swing this spring.
The girls are back in town.
Last spring, the Riverton Little League fastpitch softball league began its inaugural campaign with two divisions -- seniors and majors -- and had a successful season, culminating with a squad of all-stars representing Wyoming at the Western regional tournament in San Bernardino, California in July.
According to league president Jakob Olheiser, last season was simply a springboard to bigger and better things, which have already begun to come to fruition on the field in the form of crisper play and better competition.
"Continued growth and development of the players is one of our main goals," said Olheiser. "The girls who played last year learned a lot and are starting to play competitive ball. Our first three games this year had hitting, outs, were complete games in just a few hours, and had close scores. Last year, we didn't get a complete game in (at least four innings) the first game and had a lot of 10-run decisions."
Laying a foundation
As with any organization, it must be built from the ground up, laying a solid foundation to ensure future success.
"Pitching development will be a big focus this year, as well as the development of our younger players in coach-pitch and t-ball," said Olheiser. "The T-ball program will focus heavily on skill development, and there will only be two scrimmage games."
The move from the Amateur Softball Association to Little League Softball has been a boon to the league in more ways than one, said Olheiser.
"It's been gratifying to see the growth of this organization from last year to now," he said. "With the help of our board and volunteers, we have been turning the facility into something our female athletes can be proud of. To see them have smiles on their faces when they take the field is priceless."
Little League has stepped up to the plate.
"As we've been looking to improve this experience for our girls, we struggle at times to find funding for improvements. It's expensive upkeep to fix and maintain the facility -- that was one of the biggest factors in the decision to go with Little League as our affiliate -- the brand recognition and funding tied to the organization," he said. "While our local grant funds from School District 25 and the Fremont County Recreation Board are great avenues, the funding can be a bit limited."
As a result, the players were the last line of defense against fiscal iniquity, which isn't always fair to the athletes, said Olheiser.
"There's only so much fundraising you're willing to send kids out to do, so you start to look for outside funds to help out," he said. "We applied for a lot of grants this year knowing local money would be scarce. This year, we were awarded $20,000 from Little League in grant money."
Maintaining and improving the complex is half the ballgame, said Olheiser.
"With the Little League grant, we were able to purchase a lawn tractor to help in the upkeep of the fields and do improvements," he said. "We also purchased an infield groomer to renovate and maintain the infields. It's similar to what the Rockies use."
But, that wasn't all, as some improvements are literally beneath the surface.
"We also purchased a bunch of clay bricks to fix the batter's boxes and pitching areas, as well as conditioner for the infields to maintain much-needed moisture, so it packs together and lets the ball roll like it should," said Olheiser. "It will also help absorb water in the grass that may at times be swampy. As we continue these purchases, I hope to have enough funds to put in some type of gravel in the walkways between fields, which can be muddy -- that's especially important for handicap accessibility and our challenger athletes."
Olheiser will be the first to tell you he's simply the conductor of a symphony orchestra, with an army of volunteers giving of their own time to make diamond dreams a reality for local softballers.
"Having a league with all volunteers has always been important to Little League," he said. "It's seen as a way of teaching and giving back to the community and gives parents the opportunity to coach and learn alongside their kids."
As a result, the players not only learn how to play the game, but also valuable lessons about the game of life, said Olheiser.
"It gives the kids the opportunity to understand how important it is to pass knowledge and experience on to others," he said. "It can be challenging finding people able to step up to volunteer, as it's hard balancing work schedules and family commitments. We're always looking for people willing to help."
When all is said and done, Olheiser wants the girls who pass through the program to take one thing with them from their experience, if nothing else.
"I would like these athletes to take away from this that the effort is worth it," he said. "It may not be easy or work out the way you thought it would, but in the end, the satisfaction of being part of something bigger than yourself is well worth it."
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