Cassville Middle School has taken a big step forward with the addition of girls softball to its list of extracurricular activities available for students.
"I have tossed this idea around in my head for several years and always wondered why we didn't build a feeder program for softball like we do in most of our other sports," said Coach Ben Abramovitz, who coaches the high school program and now leads the middle school team. "A lot of the larger schools we play are in locations that allow for girls to compete on travel teams and build their skills at a very competitive level. Inevitably, we have to compete with these schools and these athletes.
"I don't coach to simply go out and play every night, and I don't think the kids show up to practice, camps, leagues, etc. just because they don't have anything better to do," explained Abramovitz. "I want to win, I want to be the best, and I think our athletes do as well. This was an opportunity I saw for our female athletes to finally gain an edge on the competition or at least eventually level the playing field."
Abramovitz's goal for the program is simple: to begin conditioning, building and preparing female athletes at a younger age to be prepared for the level of play that is expected of them when they get to the high school program. Instead of starting to teach skills when they're a freshman, the players now will have a two-year head start toward competing at the next level.
One concern over the addition of softball at the younger level was whether it might adversely affect the existing sports programs.
"The addition of softball has had a positive impact on our student/athlete participation numbers," said Abramo-vitz. "Our overall female athlete numbers are up significantly from last spring. We assessed the situation before adding our softball program, and we discovered that there were only a couple of students that may not participate in our track program from the previous year."
In this time of funding concerns for education at all levels, the funding of a new athletic program was sure to raise some eyebrows.
"I knew as with any other new or existing program, that finances would have to be taken into consideration," admitted Abramovitz. "I tried to present this opportunity to the administration and Board of Education as conservatively as possible, as I just wanted an opportunity for the kids to play and develop skills.
"Again, the adminstration, Board of Education and the parents considered my proposition with an open mind and have been amazingly supportive in this endeavor," Abramovitz continued. "It is difficult in this day and time for districts to even consider taking on a new program as such, but I can not say enough about how supportive the district has been."
The season starts the beginning of March, identical to high school baseball. A full schedule is eight regular season games and three tournaments.
"We play Tuesday and Thursday night double headers beginning at 5 p.m.," said Abramovitz. "We play a mixed seventh and eighth grade A and B game. This year we play four home games, four away games and three tournaments away. The season runs through the end of April."
Cassville is currently the only Big 8 school district that has a middle school softball program. The league the Lady Wildcats play in consists of Ozark, Nixa, Branson, Willard, Buffalo and Cassville.
"These are very competitive schools out of the COC Conference," Abramovitz pointed out.
The Lady Wildcats currently have a total of 25 seventh and eighth grade players and are coached by Abramovitz and Chelsea Swadley.
"We opened our historic season at Ozark last Thursday night, and even though we recorded a loss, our kids are learning by leaps and bounds. This is the first time I've coached any sport at the middle school level and never have I experienced a group of athletes that wanted to learn so much. These kids have been diligently practicing two and a half to three hours a night and have shown so much progress in just three weeks."