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Fastpitch softball has grown incredibly over the past few decades, with the emergence of superstars like Jennie Finch, Dot Richardson, and Cat Osterman, and Olympic successes by Team USA. The game looks fun and challenging, but some parents might wonder, Can boys play softball, too?
In reality the answer is yes, boys can play softball. However, how a boy plays softball depends on several factors including location, individual sports leagues, and whether the play is at the school or adult level.
For the most part, boys can play fastpitch softball if they wish. It’s just that, not many choose to pursue it. Mostly it’s because they stick with the male sports alternative, baseball. Additionally, such a decision can spur controversy or significant attention, which most young athletes prefer to avoid.
Depending on the youth sports league, if it is the first time ever that a boy asks to play in the girls softball league, there is potential for confusion, protest, or other unknown reactions. The main complaint is fairness ~ that boys would have an unfair edge because their bodies are stronger biologically.
Little League was opened for girls to play alongside the boys due to a 1974 lawsuit decision. Around that time, other key youth and college sports regulations came into play, namely a federal law intended to give girls equal access to school programs as boys.
Title IX is a 1972 law that forces gender equity in the education programs funded by the federal government. The law, however, does not expressly say girls can now play baseball, or boys can play softball. It only requires equal funding for both genders.
Since the mid1970s, schools have deemed softball and baseball “equivalent” sports and hence kept them segregated by gender.
What has happened with new attempts by boys to play girls softball is, generally, the requests are handled on a case-by-case basis. Numerous considerations might be explored before a governing body makes a final decision.
Unless specifically outlined in writing in the bylaws of organizations like the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) the main governing bodies of fastpitch softball, boys are allowed to join the girls in youth softball leagues. Likewise for any regional or state body governing high school sports.
However, it’s not always as easy as just signing up, trying out, and getting assigned to a fastpitch softball team. The first girl to play in Little League found that after middle school, it became hard to try out for the baseball team, because in part the tryouts were held at the same time. She had to get creative.
In 2014, a Southern California high schooler who believed he was a girl trapped in a boy’s body took advantage of a new state transgender law and tried out for ~ and made ~ the school’s fastpitch softball team. The previous season he had played on the school’s baseball team (and he also was a cheerleader on the campus).
While the school and some parents applauded it, the situation was not without controversy, and made news articles and programs.
So it’s possible in most places for boys to play softball. How easy it is to do it depends on the place and situation.
There are thousands of adult softball leagues across the United States, most of them the slow-pitch variety, but also some adult fastpitch leagues.
Public leagues, such as those run by a city recreation department, or by a special district, typically provide divisions for adult softball play specifically for men, women, and coed. So in these leagues, boys and girls, or in actuality men and women, play together and against one another.
However, if a man wants to play in a women-only designated division, again, it’s up to the bylaws or rules of that particular public organization. We are unaware of any that specifically allow men to play on womens’ teams.
That does not mean there are none. Additionally, in nearly any sports league a person can submit a request for special consideration, for anything. These requests do not have to be approved, if the issue is not clearly outlined in the rules; but it could happen that a league governing board could vote to allow a man to play in a women’s division.
They do exist. In fact, high school fastpitch leagues in certain parts of the country operated for many years. A great example is the boys fastpitch softball programs at several northwest Missouri high schools, which could not field a football team and instead arranged fastpitch contests for the fall season.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association actually sanctioned boys fastpitch softball in fall 1992. The schools continued games, even including state championship contests, for 24 years until the last game was played in 2015.
All that said, it might not be the wisest choice for a boy to play in a girls fastpitch league. The reason? It’s hard.
Don’t let the bigger ball fool you. (And it’s not much more “soft” than a baseball). The pitcher’s rubber is a lot closer to the batter (a maximum 43 feet versus the 60.5 feet of baseball), and the pitched ball approaches home plate (and the batter) at a much different angle.
It’s not as easy to hit a fastpitch softball as many people assume. Baseballs are thrown high above the hand of the pitcher, who often starts on a mound of raised dirt, downward to a strike zone from the knees up to the mid-section of the hitter.
Fastpitch softballs start maybe 2 feet off the ground and mostly either go parallel to the ground, or even appear to rise.
The bases are only 60 feet apart, so softball is a faster game. Everything about it moves more quickly than baseball, starting with pressure on the defense to make plays fluidly without bobbles or hesitation. Every infield play must be made with precision.
There are no lead-offs in softball; runners can leave the base once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. There are no balks or pick-off attempts in softball. Still, stealing is a big part of the fastpitch softball game. Along with an almost-forgotten skill in baseball: bunting.
Finally, for young players into the pre-teen years, girls’ bodies develop sooner than those of boys, so the bigger-size advantage might not exist for all males.
Question: Can adult women play baseball?
Answer: Yes, and they have indeed played as high as minor league ball. Ila Borders became the first female pitcher to start a professional game, when she took the mound in 1997 for the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League. She pitched 4 seasons in the league, later hurling for the Duluth-Superior Dukes, Madison Black Wolf, and finally with the Zion Pioneerzz in 2000.
Q.: Is there an example of how a softball governing body tried to address this matter in writing?
A.: Yes. An example, from the USSSA website: “The Fastpitch program is designed for both boys and girls; however, the boys program shall be entirely separate from the girls program.”
Q.: What’s the hardest part for a boy playing fastpitch softball?
A.: Pitching. Not only hitting a ball that comes from a flat-to-upward angle, but also who would pitch. The underhanded fastpitch softball motion does not come naturally like throwing a ball overhand. It’s rare that a young player can learn to pitch in fastpitch without professional assistance ~ pitching coaches. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of parents pay these pitching coaches for weekly sessions for their little pitcher.