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COLONIE — It’s impossible to say how many girls have stepped up to the plate at a Latham Lassies softball diamond, but a conservative estimate is in the neighborhood somewhere north of 10,000.
On Sunday, May 6, the league celebrated 30 years – so an average of 333 players a year is really not that big of a stretch at all. T-Ball starts at 5 years old, and the regular leagues continue until 16. And then there are affiliated travel teams that can take a player into high school and beyond.
“Today brought back some great memories for me,” said Town Board member Melissa Jeffers Von Dollen, who started in the Lassie’s T-Ball league and ended playing on travel teams until she was 20-something. “I saw some of my old teammates today who now have children playing in the Latham Lassies. It really is a great organization that supports women, and young women in particular, and a great place for families to come together. We are so proud of all the amazing people who have volunteered their time to keep it as popular as it is.”
The league started in 1988 with 80 players as an extension of Latham Youth Baseball and played wherever there was an open diamond. A year later, it incorporated and the town built two fields and a concession stand at the town park off Route 9 where the league still calls home. In 1996, there were no fewer than 560 Lassies playing on 42 teams, and two years later lights were added, according to the league website. Registrations have dropped a bit since then, but there are still more than 300 signed up to play softball this summer.
“It’s a great league and we want to provide the best spot possible for the girls to get that team experience, and do the best they can in an environment that is safe and enjoyable,” said league President Eric Lovly. “The first rule of any division is to make sure they have fun. But we also want to build their confidence, and move them around to different positions and make sure they have a chance to learn leadership skills and how to talk to each other and work with each other. It’s really is about so much more than just what happens on the softball field.”
The league survives because of volunteers, and Lovly said his assent to president started just like countless of others who have come before and who will certainly come after. It all began while he was just hanging out watching his daughter play T-Ball. Someone said they needed a hand and he agreed to help out.
“That’s generally the first mistake any parent makes,” he said with a chuckle. “Now, four years later, I spend as much time here as my real job with this one being much more enjoyable, for sure.”
Supervisor Paula Mahan was on hand to give Lovly a plaque outlining a proclamation from the town praising the work the Lassies have accomplished through the years.
“They have grown since they began, and won some championships through the years, and some of the coaches and sponsors who keep coming back have played here or their families have played here and it’s really exciting to see them still going strong after 30 years,” said Mahan, a mom and former teacher. “And it’s not just the sports end of it. It’s great exercise and it’s about learning to be healthy and it’s about being a team player and how to help each other and learning good sportsmanship … It’s just a great thing all the way around.”
Parents who spend countless hours at the ball park watching, coaching or volunteering, know it is a way of life.
“It does take up the entire summer, but she loves it and it is something she wants to do every year and sports are such an important part of anyone growing into an adult,” said Nadine Rocco, who has been watching her 15-year-old daughter, Alexis Insero, play for the last decade. “She has become very team oriented, but she also sets her own personnel goals. She has become more caring and supportive and it really has been awesome to watch her grow and softball has helped with that. I think it’s something all kids should do.”
Chris Shields, who has watched his daughter Jennifer play in different Lassie leagues for nine years, said the lessons learned go beyond softball skills.
“It keeps the girls moving, they watch less TV and they are more active and healthy,” he said. “They learn teamwork and build confidence and a lot of life lessons like how to deal with other people, both good and bad.”
Fourteen-year-old Molly O’Grady started in T-Ball some nine years ago and is still playing strong.
“It’s really fun, and gets you going and you make a lot of friends,” she said while talking to her friend Payton Dayter. “Most of my friends are here.”
“Most of my friends are here too,” Dayter said. “And it gives us something to do and we learn sportsmanship and about how important it is to be fair in any situation.”
Albany County Legislator David Mayo, a Latham Democrat, was on hand to proclaim Sunday, May 6, “Latham Lassie Day.”
“It is fitting that we recognize not only their hard work but their ability to set goals as a team and individually and play with respect and (how) the players work together in an atmosphere of wholesome activity to provide valuable training to learn the basic ideals of fair play and good sportsmanship,” he said from the proclamation that will now be an official part of the Albany County record.
Chessa Chernosky, Tatum Passonno and Geena Fratangelo, who are between 11 and 12 years old and have been playing with the Lassies from between three and five years, collectively answered some questions while watching a game.
“The people are nice. We have a lot of fun,” they said. “The coaches tell us it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It doesn’t matter what the final score is. What matters is if we played hard and we had a good game and we learned something about each other and ourselves then that’s all that matters.”
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