Junior high school girls in inner-city Mesa now have a fast pitch softball league to call their own, thanks to the generosity of the Mesa HoHoKams.
The new West Mesa Junior High Fast Pitch Softball League will begin playing in June after getting a $10,000 check Wednesday from the HoHoKams, a local civic group founded in 1951 that among other things first hosted the Chicago Cubs spring training in Mesa.
The money will provide equipment and uniforms for four teams to play in the new league. Girls entering seventh, eighth and ninth grade are invited to join. Sign ups will start in May, and games will begin in June on the softball fields of Kino Junior High School.
The idea to fund the league came from Marty Whalen, a board member of the Mesa HoHoKams, who was compelled to help after reading an East Valley Tribune article about the popular Mesa Girls Softball League not playing this year. The slow pitch league, which had served West Mesa for more than 30 years, wasn’t able to play due to rising expenses.
Unfortunately, Chester Smith, the president of the slow-pitch league, still wanted to sit out the season, Whalen said.
After the article and a subsequent editorial in the Tribune about Smith’s league and Kino Junior High School’s volunteer softball coach Dennis Ferguson’s quest to start a fast pitch league, Whalen contacted Ferguson.
The idea then moved from helping out the old league, to starting a new league that
Ferguson had dreamed about for years but didn’t have the financing.
“Ferguson is very enthusiastic,” said Whalen, 66, of Mesa. “He tells a compelling story.”
Ferguson is the coordinator of the West Mesa Junior High Fast Pitch Softball League.
Now, the girls have a chance to perfect their fast pitch skills before entering high school’s fast pitch teams, which Ferguson said is key to the girl’s success.
“This league is being formed out of necessity,” said Ferguson, 58, of Mesa, a 2000 inductee into the Arizona Softball Foundation Hall of Fame. “The girls don’t have private little leagues to play on. There are no affordable plans for inner city girls.”
Girls from Kino, Carson, Mesa and Powell junior high schools will benefit from the league.
Another positive that came out of this is a private investor is going to fix the Kino softball fields. The dirt is really hard, and cracks after it rains, Ferguson said.
Marty Lantz, Kino’s assistant principal, said the league will enhance the school’s facilities and offerings for softball players.
“The extra couple of years they will be playing in an organized league will enhance the overall caliber of our softball program,” he said.
The new fast pitch league will give girls playing fast pitch in high school some previous experience.
“This will enhance the understanding of the game,” Ferguson said.
Erin Connolly is the director of the West Mesa Junior High Fast Pitch Softball League — and a happy mom.
Her 12-year-old daughter, Connie, is going to join the league and is “thrilled” to get the chance to play fast pitch before high school. Connolly’s 15-year-old daughter, Amanda, was on Ferguson’s Kino team last year. Both girls benefited from the slow pitch league, but had no skills at fast pitch.
“It’s a whole new league having that fast pitch available to the girls,” said Connolly, 37, a Mesa resident.
Breeja Larson, a Kino ninth-grader who has played softball since the second grade, is too old to join the league but said a fast pitch league would have definitely helped her skills.
“Oh my gosh! It’s taken us a long time to learn fast pitch,” said Larson, who will be 15 in five days. “There’s so much to fast pitch.”
Inner city Mesa girls who will be in seventh, eighth and ninth grade next school year are invited to join the West Mesa Junior High Fast Pitch Softball League. The league is also looking for sponsors. For information, call Dennis Ferguson at (480) 202-3947.