In case you didn’t already know, Watertown has the biggest and best youth slo-pitch softball program in the state.
The Watertown Area Olympic Junior Softball Association started about 30 years ago under the leadership of Joe Stellinga and is stronger than ever.
This summer, there are 58 girls’ and boys’ teams throughout northeastern South Dakota competing in eight age categories Monday through Thursday at the Koch Complex.
“It’s more important than ever,” said association president David Ebbers. “A lot of that growth is with teams coming from all over the region. I think a lot of the reason these teams come here is because they know they’re going to play games in their group. age and that there will be referees.
This weekend, the association is hosting the 24th Olympic Games Classic with 37 teams divided into six divisions. The tournament was started by Jim Engels in the late 1990s and has been under the control of the Watertown Area Junior Olympic Softball Association for several years.
The league keeps growing and growing
The Watertown league features games for girls 12 and under on Mondays, girls 16 and under and 18 and under on Tuesdays and girls 10 and under and 14 and under on Thursdays. The Boys 12&U, 14&U and 16/18&U divisions play every Wednesday.
This summer, there are 41 girls’ teams and 17 boys’ teams competing in Watertown.
The majority of the teams are made up of players from Watertown, but there are also teams from Castlewood, Claremont, Clark, Clear Lake, Gary, Redfield, Sisseton, Volga and Willow Lake.
Despite their numbers, small towns were forced to travel to play games. Sioux Falls has a 26-team youth league this summer, but the sport has struggled to stay buoyant or take off in other major cities in South Dakota, in part because of fastpitch softball.
“We’re just trying to make it work,” Ebbers said. “At the end of the day, there are no college scholarships for slowpitch softball, so it better be fun for the kids.”
It’s not all about wins and losses
Having more teams and more players has certainly led to a ton of success for Watertown’s league teams. These teams often win numerous state championships or have the most top-four teams in any division.
After completing the Watertown Park and Rec programs, teams are formed to compete in the Junior Olympic league. The 10-and-under league, which was recently resumed, has teams formed through a draft.
“We don’t focus on state championships or winning teams and that’s one of the reasons when we started the U10 league, we made it a draft league,” Ebbers said. “Our goal is to create a sport for children. We want them to not only play when they are 9 years old, but long after.”
The association is growing
Over the years, many people have contributed to helping the Watertown league get to this point.
Current members of the Association’s Board of Directors include Ebbers, Vice President Travis Ronke, Treasurer Margo Spiering, Secretary Jeff Hansen and Chief Umpire Kelly Johnson. There are countless other people who help coaching teams.
The registration fee for players is $50, but Ebbers said the association can help financially those who want the opportunity to play.
Money raised from this weekend’s tournament is being used to grow the program.
“We used it to buy equipment for our league and to make improvements to the field or buy field equipment for the complex,” said Ebbers, who got involved for the first time in the program when his children played and served as president of the association for the past decade. . “We also donate to Park and Rec every year. They maintain the fields and this is our way of giving back.”
Here are the deals for the JO Classic this weekend:
• Girls 12 and under (Field 2) — Saturday: Clear Lake vs. Sioux Falls Faini, 8 a.m.; Watertown Crush-Meyer Insurance vs. Watertown Velocity, 9 a.m.; Watertown Moyer Construction winner vs. Clear Lake-Sioux Falls, 10 a.m. Losers matches at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. and winners match at 2 p.m.
Sunday: Loser’s bracket matches at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Championship, 10 a.m. Second championship, if necessary, 11 a.m.
• Girls 14 and under (fields 1 and 4) – Saturday: Watertown Thunder vs. Redfield Knockouts, 8 a.m. (F1); Sioux Falls Dakota Sanony vs. Watertown Service Plus, 8 a.m. (F4); Castlewood vs. Clark, 9 a.m. (F1); Watertown Green Machine vs. Watertown Rampage, 9 a.m. (F4); Winner’s Bracket matches at 11 a.m. (F1&F4); Losers matches at 10 a.m. (F1&F4), 12 p.m. (F1), 1 p.m. (F1), 2 p.m. (F1) and 3 p.m. (F1).
Sunday (Pitch 1): Winner’s Bracket match at 9:00 a.m.; Losers matches at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Championship, 11 a.m. Second championship, if necessary, 12 p.m.
• Girls 16/18 and under (fields 1, 5 and 6) — Saturday: Clark vs. Watertown Blaze, 8 a.m. (F1); Watertown LAPD (Lake Area Pediatric Dentistry) vs. Watertown Wildcards, 8 a.m. (F6); Redfield Fireballs vs. Volga Venom, 9 a.m. (F6); Watertown Duane Flooring vs. Clear Lake, 9 a.m. (F5); Winner Orient vs. Clark-Blaze, 10 a.m. (F5); Winner’s bracket matches at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. (F6); Losers matches at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (F6), 5 p.m. (F1&F6) and 6 p.m. (F1).
Sunday (Pitch 6): Winner’s bracket match at 9 a.m. Loser’s bracket matches at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Championship, 11 a.m. Second championship, if necessary, noon.
• Boys 12 and under (Field 3) – (Saturday only) Round Robin: Watertown Duane’s Floor Covering vs. Watertown Moon Squad, 9 a.m. Moon Squad vs. Watertown Night Fire, 10 a.m.; Duane’s vs. Night Fire, 11 a.m.
Bracket Play: No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed, 1 p.m. Championship (No. 1 seed vs. No. 2/3 seed), 2 p.m.
• Boys 14 and under (Field 7) – Saturday only: Watertown Velocity vs. Watertown Benchwarmers, 8 a.m.; Watertown Kranz Insurance against Watertown base invaders. Winner’s Bracket match at 10 a.m. Loser’s Bracket matches at 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Championship, 2 p.m. Second championship, if necessary, 3 p.m.
• Boys 16/18 and under (Fields 4 and 5) — Saturday: Sioux Falls Kitchen & Windows vs. Watertown Mama Boys, 11 a.m. (F5); Watertown VTech vs. Watertown Slumberland, noon (F5); Watertown Vanilla Ice vs. Watertown Goonies, 1 p.m. (F5); Watertown Duane Orange Flooring vs. Watertown Duane Blue Flooring, 1 p.m. (F4). Winner’s bracket matches at 3 p.m. (F4&5); Losers matches at 2 p.m. (F4&5), 4 p.m. (F4&5) and 5 p.m. (F4&5).
Sunday (Pitch 5): Winner’s bracket match at 9:00 a.m. Loser’s bracket matches at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Championship, 11:00 a.m. Second championship, if necessary, 12:00 p.m.