AUGUSTA — There were colorful uniforms, a group sing-a-long during the national anthem, a little dancing and plenty of softball. About the only thing missing from the opening day festivities of the Capital Area Youth Softball Association festivities were fireworks.
Girls between the ages of 5 and 12 from at least a dozen area communities showed up to kick off a spring and summer of fun and instruction.
“Everybody gets a chance to play and learn,” said 11-year-old Manchester resident Maggie McQuillen. “I’ve met a lot of new people. I like all of it.”
CAYSA, as the organization is generally called, is growing. In the past four or five years the number of participants has increased 25 percent to approximately 200 girls according to co-president Noel Levasseur. Among the attractions are two centrally located and well-maintained fields, one with lights, on the Piggery Road and an organization with years of experience. There is also an instructional field to accommodate those youngsters just learning the game.
“It’s about building friendship, teamwork, skills and having a blast at the same time,” Levasseur said.
CAYSA draws participants from as far away as Waterville and Jefferson. There are two teams from the Gardiner Boys and Girls Club which play together primarily for travel reasons, while other players are thrown into a common draft. They play twice a week and practice at least once and at the end of the season all-star teams are selected. The all-stars are certainly a draw for a few of the older players, but the main attraction is fun.
“I think it’s good clean fun, it keeps the kids active, and that’s all that really matters,” Meredith Hendrickson, of Farmingdale, said.
Hendrickson’s daughter, Caroline, 6, is on an instructional league team where the emphasis is on learning the game and parents are encourage to participate. There are defensive coaches on the sidelines and the counting of runs is discourage.
“I hope to keep her coming back every year,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson played softball at school in Gardiner through the eighth grade
“That really was the only way we were exposed to it or in weekend pickup games,” she said. “There’s so much more for kids these days.”
The 10-under division games are six innings, everyone on the roster hits, and each player must play at least an inning in the infield and an inning in the outfield. Similar rules are in effect for the 12-under division except games are seven innings with a time limit of 1 hour, 45 minutes.
“We’re working on a 13-14 group,” CAYSA co-president Andy Wing said. “But we won’t start them until school ball ends.”
In late June and July, high school league teams from throughout central Maine and beyond play games twice a week at the complex with a tournament at the end of the season. The field at Cony High School also hosts some league games.
“We reach out to all these teams,” Wing said. “There’s not a whole lot of other programs in the month of July so they come here and hang out.”
At the end of the season, all-star 10-U and 12-U teams are selected to play for the Maineiacs with the older group playing in some out-of-state tournaments. Levasseur said special attention is given to include every player in the process.
“All kids are treated the same here,” he said “We don’t care who you are, where you come from. If you want to play ball, come play ball.”
Levasseur said there are plans to cede the softball fields to Augusta Little League, which currently plays in two separate locations, and built three new softball fields at the north end of Piggery Road.