The sweet sound of ball smacking leather could be heard at East Addition Park Monday evening as 25 young ladies loosened their throwing arms for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports.
All in attendance — parents, players and coaches — were giddy with excitement as they welcomed the return of softball the island.
“This is a great turnout. I really appreciate seeing everybody out here,” Kodiak Fastpitch Association coach Tom Bolen told the group before hitting the field.
Monday’s practice is just the beginning as Bolen is in the planning stages of forming a USA Softball travel team. He said there are five tournaments on the road system planned this summer, and he hopes to take a team to at least three of them.
“This is something that I’ve been looking at doing and looking forward to doing for a long time,” said Bolen, who is also the head coach of the Kodiak High School softball program.
“For us to compete at a high level, as we have the past couple of years, we have to keep playing — we need game experience.”
The absense of a high school season accelerated Bolen’s desire to form a team.
“That pushed it into overdrive for me,” he said. “Missing being with the girls, the camaraderie and traveling ... there are good things that come out of unfortunate events, and this summer league has sparked because of the pandemic that we have had.”
Bolen said he attended a virtual USA Softball meeting last week with coaches from around the state and the Alaska USA Softball commissioner.
“Teams from Homer all the way up to Fairbanks were involved with it,” he said. “I was really taken away by the amount of support.”
The new program doesn’t have equipment or uniforms yet but does have a team name — Island Warriors. The name dates back to Bolen’s days on the Kodiak men’s slow-pitch softball team that toured the state in the 1990s.
He understands that there are hurdles to clear before Kodiak enters a tournament.
“We are starting from ground zero,” he said. “This is something totally separate from the high school Bears softball. We are the Island Warriors, and that name is fitting for here.”
Players ranging in ages from 12 to 18 were practicing on a sun-soaked Monday. Bolen said the association could field multiple
teams this summer. The program will be self-funded, with money generated from player fees and fundraisers.
He said COVID-19 protocols would be put in place for practices and tournaments.
“The pandemic is part of life. It’s always on our minds, and we will be very mindful of it here and keep our distance,” he said.
Bolen’s vision is for the Island Warriors to become a staple of Kodiak summers for years.
“This is how we get better — to continue to throw the ball and swing the bat,” he said. “Kids have to get out and get that game experience. I would love to see kids go on and play in college.”
For more information, contact Bolen through the Kodiak Fastpitch Association Facebook page.