Fewer young women seen playing softball in county

Howard At Play

March 26, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland

WHERE HAVE all the young softball players gone, particularly in the eastern half of the county? Coaches are wondering, because girls aren't signing up for the sport in numbers seen even a few years ago.

Bob Halstead, who for the past five years has led the smallish but constant AYRA Softball program, says his group has enough older -- meaning middle school-aged -- girls for only "about 2 1/2 teams" this spring, down from four a year ago.

Coaches at Elkridge Youth Organization and Savage Boys and Girls Clubs are experiencing declines as well, and the Columbia Youth Baseball Association's softball program expects fewer than 200 girls to register. Only the Howard County Youth Program seems to have enough girls to maintain its leagues.

Only the western county is showing more girls interested in playing than last spring -- probably a corollary to huge housing growth there, said Mike Milani, the county rec department's coordinator for the sport.

Reasons for the decline? Most say it's growing programs for girls in soccer and, especially, lacrosse, the "new" red-hot sport as Title IX continues to open college opportunities for female athletes. Several think the emphasis on more challenging, fast-pitch play, a relatively recent addition in the county, has influenced interest as well.

Such is the situation that representatives of four county youth groups met Monday night with Milani and agreed on the county setting up cross-organization leagues for 9-10, 11-12 and 13- to 14-year-old girls. Play will start the last week of April, end the first week of June, with a single-elimination tournament for all teams.

Vaulting to a new career

Chris Rohde, one of the busiest names on the county's amateur sports scene, is moving on to a new, nonsports job -- Secret Service agent. New York City will be his home after training in Greenbelt and Georgia.

His career move is a multidimensional loss for county athletics.

Rohde, 29, grew up near Lisbon and started building his reputation at Glenelg High, where he was a standout soccer player. In college, track and field became his athletic focus, first at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and then at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he majored in psychology.

He added a master's degree in sports psychology from West Virginia. Rohde posted the eighth-highest decathlon score in Terps history, sprinted 100 meters in 10.7 seconds and finished the 1994 Boston Marathon in a little more than three hours -- not shabby.

In recent years, he has coordinated adult football, baseball, coaching, track and soccer for the county rec department. In the last two years, he blossomed into an excellent high school soccer referee, good enough to warrant assignment to the Centennial-River Hill boys game near the end of last season, one of the county's more, shall we say, contentious rivalries. County coaches rated him No. 1 of all officials last fall.

A lot of pole vaulters will miss him, too. After Rohde coached track at Atholton (he was this paper's county 1997 Coach of the Year), Don Disney, the county schools athletics supervisor, asked him to work with those in the county interested in vaulting, a physically demanding, dangerous event some school systems have dropped. Rohde's pole-vaulting curriculum for athletes and coaches here quickly became a model that other school systems nationally seek out, Disney said.

"His departure leaves us a couple big holes to fill -- very hard to replace," he added.

Said Rohde, who also tutors vaulters privately and loved coaching two California women vaulters in New York's famed Milrose Games last winter: "I know I'm going to miss coaching the most, but this [field change] is just something I want to try."

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