Gaining ground: Wells softball’s struggle for recognition

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Laif Kvarsten (he/him), Staff Writer

The smell of fresh cut grass and the sound of chatter filled the air as the Ida B. Wells softball team took the field for practice in late April. Despite being several weeks into their season, this was just their sixth opportunity to practice outside on their home field at Rieke Elementary School, due to the unseasonable amounts of rainfall earlier this spring. “There’s only so much you can do in a gym,” said head coach Ashley Reeves. “Being outside is a whole different game.” But as the weather has improved, the team has been able to unlock its potential.

Ashley and Emily Reeves, co-coaches and sisters

Despite losing eight of their first nine games, they have picked up the pace in the last month of their season, with three wins against Lincoln, and two grand slams and four home runs in a three game span in late April. 

Reeves, who is a 2011 Wilson High School graduate, has been playing softball since the age of five. Her playing journey took her to Yakima Valley Community College before returning to Wells to coach. Being a female coach in a female sport, something that is surprisingly uncommon, Reeves is able to take a less direct approach to coaching. “I try to be more relaxed, because as females we seem to respond better to that style of coaching, so I want to be that kind of a coach,” she said.  

For freshman Sam Stevens, Reeves is the first female coach that she has had, and her influence could not be greater. “They understand our experiences, they understand our emotions, and they’re easy to relate to and to talk to. It’s like having an older sister,” said Stevens. 

Junior Amelia Garrahan, who is the center fielder for Wells, is the captain of the team. While their start to this season was not optimal, she is optimistic that this group will go far in the coming years. “We have a really young team,” she said. “It’s mostly sophomores and freshmen, no seniors, so that’s been hard because there’s a lot of people who are newer to the game.”

Team captain and center fielder Amelia Garrahan

The lack of upperclassmen on the softball team only exacerbates the problems that already plague most women’s sports at Wells: underrepresentation within the school community and underfunding. This year’s young team strives to change that, as many of them are just beginning their playing time here at Wells. 

“Softball is a lesser known sport than for example women’s soccer,” said Garrahan. “I get asked a lot, ‘We have a softball team?’ or ‘Where do you guys even play?’”

 And while she admits that the softball team isn’t putting up especially impressive numbers on the scoreboard, Garrahan still wants to see more focus on the softball team. “It’s not like we have a winning streak like the baseball team which gets them lots of recognition and the athletic department is all over them,” she said. “I get that they’re really good, but it does bother me when they’re really focusing on the baseball team and we have a really amazing group of girls out here.”

From gameday attendance to the state of the softball facilities, Garrahan wants to see more support from the school. “It’s hard to make people interested in a sport they aren’t interested in, and that’s okay,” said Garrahan. “But building a bigger community around it would be cool.” As for what the school could do to increase support for softball, “Maybe give us a post every now and then,” she said. 

But social media promotion is far from the only way the school could be helping the softball team. Their scoreboard at their home field at Rieke still bears the name Wilson, despite the school name change having taken place nearly three years ago. “My maintenance guy put tape up there that says Wells,” said Reeves. “The school district overlooked it when they were resigning the entire school. We asked them to fix it and they said ‘before the season’ and they basically haven’t cared to come fix it.” All other scoreboards and athletic facilities have been resigned since the name change.

Despite ongoing challenges and deeply embedded athletic inequities, the Wells softball team has greatly improved their play since the beginning of the year, finishing the season with impressive wins against Lincoln and Grant. A source of pride for the team during this challenging and transitional season has been their three wins over Lincoln, including one for the coveted Council Crest Cup. 

As for next season and the years ahead, this team is dedicated to continuing to develop as a community and as individuals. Rarely does a varsity sports team consist of as many dedicated underclassmen as the Ida B. Wells softball team does, giving them the opportunity to play together for several years and hone their craft.