August 4, 2012 11:06:43 PM
STARKVILLE -- While the Summer Olympic Games have been plagued by controversies in gymnastics and badminton, no such ill will has developed on the softball diamond.
After four installments, softball was removed as an Olympic sport after the 2008 Games. Softball won't be contested this year in London or in the 2016 Games. Softball enthusiasts have started an international movement to get the sport re-instated for the 2020 Olympics.
"I think it is really stupid what they have done to softball," Heritage Academy freshman left fielder Macy Walters said. "Softball players work just as hard at their sport as badminton players or table tennis players. I think it is highly unfair."
The International Olympic Committee voted to remove baseball and softball from the program in July 2005, citing a lack of competitive balance across the world. Despite outcries by the sport's supporters, the decision was re-affirmed in February 2006. The vote to continue inclusion of softball fell one vote shy. It was the first time in 69 years a sport had been removed from the Olympics.
"I have been to Oklahoma City to watch the (Women's) College World Series twice," Starkville Academy senior shortstop Mary Austin Barber said. "It was so much fun. I think it is not fair that great players like (former University of Oklahoma star) Keilani Ricketts and (former University of Alabama star) Jackie Traina can't represent their countries and compete for medals."
Baseball was first played in the 1904 Summer Games. The sport didn't become an official Olympic sport until 1992. Baseball would be played five times before being discontinued as an official Olympic sport. As many as 42 sports have been contested in the Olympics. Twenty-six are on this year's schedule.
"You see things like underwater basket weaving and they tell you that is a sport," Leake Academy senior pitcher Hannah Moore said. "It really is messed up on lots of levels. Everybody loves the Olympics. You watch it day in and day out. However, if you love softball, you want to see your sport. You turn it on and see everything else. I think it is unfair to the athletes."
Oak Hill Academy senior pitcher Mamie Allen said has spent plenty of time with her father, Tommy, watching College World Series games on television. She also enjoys watching Team USA play in the World Cup of Softball, which is broadcast each summer on the ESPN family of networks.
"Anytime softball is on, we are stuck to the TV," Allen said. "My dad likes to watch the games and points out some of the things the other players do. You are talking some of the best players in the nation, so it is a great opportunity to learn more about your sport. I wish softball was on TV more.
"We watch every chance we get. It is fun keeping up with some of the top players and some of the top teams. After college, you get to see these players play pro ball as well."
Barber also said she enjoys watching College World Series games. The unique opportunity to be a part of games at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium has enriched her softball experience.
"It is fun watching all of the Southeastern Conference teams play," Barber said. "It is just like baseball. You can learn a lot from watching some of the top teams and top players play. Going to the World Series is a fun experience. It is unreal. The fans really get into it. You see what the passion behind softball is all about.
"Even fans who don't pull for a team really get involved in the game. It is that type of passion the Olympics miss out on by not having softball."
Heritage Academy freshman second baseman Brooklyn Waldrep adds she enjoys watching college softball. She said you can learn a lot about adversity by watching some of the game's best players compete.
"When I watch college softball games, I learn how important it is to keep your head up," Waldrep said. "The older players make mistakes just like you do. They learn how to shake it off and keep competing. That is the hardest thing to learn when you are in high school. It is important to not get down on yourself.
"Even though you make one mistake, you need to come back and make the next play and make sure you don't let your teammates down because you lost your focus."
Moore and classmate/second baseman Anna Catherine Nowell have played key roles in the 70-game winning streak Leake Academy carried into the 2012 season. Nowell also doesn't understand why bowling, bridge, and chess players will be eligible for gold medals and softball players won't be.
"When I think about it, I get really mad," Nowell said. "It is personal because softball is something I really love. All of us out here playing love it. It does not make sense that we can watch Team USA compete. I don't think they really understood how many people liked the sport and watched the sport when they made the decision."
Removing softball from the Olympics has had a trickle-down effect worldwide. The Australian government cut funding for the sport after its exclusion from the Games.
In April 2011, the International Softball Federation and International Baseball Federation announced an effort to get both sports re-instated for the 2020 Games. The United States won three of the four softball gold medals, while Japan won the 2008 Games.
"They took softball out of the Olympics because not everybody was competitive," Walters said. "That was not fair to softball or baseball. Softball was one of the only things the girls had left in the Games. It is time for them to bring it back."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter