When the bright lights of television cameras were turned on this weekend during the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina, they shone brighter than the players.
For the first time in the event’s 48-year history, a predominantly female pitch crew is preparing and tending the pitches at Stallings Stadium. There are 16 female volunteers from across the country, joined by three other male volunteers. The women have only worked the final four days of the tournament – Friday through Monday of the league games – partly because of logistical issues and partly because of the exposure they will receive when the tournament airs on ESPN. .
“I think it’s really great for our industry as a whole,” said Denver stadium manager Sun Roesslein, who helped organize the women volunteers at the LLSWS. “A lot of people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into getting the fields ready – that when they walk in the door, it’s all already done.”
“So hopefully they will see that it’s a great career, in general, but especially for women,” she added. “There’s definitely an untapped resource of labor out there. There aren’t many women in the business, but there’s absolutely no reason why there aren’t many. more.”
— Women in Turf Team (@womeninturfteam) August 13, 2022
Little League, as an organization, has been “extremely focused” on empowering women, said Ashlea Nash, director of Little League softball development. Nash wasn’t part of the initial conversations about building an army of volunteer women gardeners, but once she was made aware, she was excited about the idea. When she started telling other people in the softball world about it, they shared her anticipation.
“We’re excited for the girls on the pitch to see this and they can take inspiration from it, in the hopes that they can take this experience to a new career path, if that’s what they choose to do.” , Nash said.
Chris Ball, a volunteer who lives in Charleston, SC, and also played on the field at Stallings Stadium, is the person who organizes the field team. He wants the number of women in turf management on the pitch to continue to grow, saying, “We will eventually develop it.”
So when Ball was approached by Roesslein in January, he was all ears. Roesslein, who is the president-elect of the Sports Field Management Association, then emailed female SFMA members. Thirteen women quickly volunteered and three more joined the group in recent weeks.
That the numbers got so high was not a given; Roesslein’s pool of potential volunteers was not satisfied. Of the approximately 2,200 members of the SFMA, she said only about 4% – about 88 in total – are women.
The group of women working at this week’s events includes a high school girl, a Texas A&M graduate student and the head guards of the Reno Aces and Columbia Fireflies, as well as women who work for companies in the turf management industry. Their experience ranges from beginners to those who have worked in the industry for 30 years. The latter group includes Amy Fouty, who is a field consultant for a field construction company.
“It’s amazing,” Fouty said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to bring a group of women together. … It’s so cool. Like in my lifetime, I was never sure I’d get an opportunity like this.”
This week, Fouty and the other 15 women helped give the players, ages 10 to 12, the “major league treatment,” as Ball put it, on the field at Stallings Stadium.
— Women in Turf Team (@womeninturfteam) August 12, 2022
They paint the foul lines, prep the mound and do a midgame drag around the infield — just like field teams do in the major leagues. They clean the fields after the games and prepare them for the next competition. By the end of the day, they will have worked 10 games in four days – four on Friday, then two each on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
One of Roesslein’s goals is to see more women on field teams in more sports and events, a trend already underway in golf. The last two US Women’s Opens have had around 30 female volunteers as part of their field teams.
This weekend in Greenville, on national television, was the next opportunity for an industry to show that it is growing.
“We need more women in the sports turf world because our workforce is really, really shallow right now,” Ball said. “And what better setting than the Little League Softball World Series to get  professionals in our industry together? To show these kids that this is an option for a future career.”