by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
For possibly the first time in over 30 years, Sheboygan Lutheran does not have a varsity softball team.
Crusaders’ athletic director Al Holzheimer guesses the school has fielded a varsity team every year since 1987 and knows for sure there has been one since 2005.
He calls this a year to regroup, however, because Lutheran was down to a total of only 10 girls in the softball program. As a result, the Crusaders’ only team this season competes at the junior varsity level.
“We want an opportunity for our kids, we just don’t think we’d be able to compete at a varsity level,” he said. “The parents were very receptive to that; they understood.”
So did at least one returning varsity player.
“The importance to me is being able to play and trying to keep the program still going,” said senior Maddie Peterson said. “Because I think in the future there is potential for it to become a varsity team again. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it went down this year.”
There are two main reasons Lutheran could not have a varsity team this season, according to Holzheimer. One of them is the school consists of two-third boys and one-third girls.
“That’s one of our things,” he said. “We’ve also got girls soccer, track, kids that trapshoot, two golfers on the boys team. We’re just really spread pretty thin.”
That leads to the bigger reason: a lack of numbers.
There were 12 players in the program, but two of them got hurt playing basketball, including the only pitcher in the program: senior Makell Babak.
“Now all of a sudden we’re going from 12 to 10, without your best player, and a promising freshman, and we have four or five girls that have never played before,” Holzheimer said. “That’s why we made the decision to go JV. I think we have a good group of freshmen coming in next year that have indicated they are interested in softball. So I didn’t want to kill the program, because once you do that, it’s very tough to get that back. … I’m not saying we’re going to be world-beaters (next year) but we’ll be able to compete.”
Ryan Adameak, who made his debut as varsity coach at Lutheran last season, talked to Holzheimer after the two basketball injuries. They discussed the number of girls in the program and the lack of experience most of them had.
Of the 10 girls that are currently playing, only four were on the varsity last year.
Besides, Peterson, there is her sister, junior Molly Peterson, as well as junior Megan Glewen and sophomore Julia Richardson. Adameak says it was not easy telling them there was not going to be a varsity team this year.
“From a coach’s perspective, it’s definitely hard because you feel like you’re letting them down,” he said. “But they’re very understanding of what we’re able to do and what we’re not able to do. Again, considering the alternative – cancelling the season – they’d much rather be playing a JV schedule than not having a team at all, and knowing that we only have one senior right now, we fully plan on being able to field a varsity team next year.”
There isn’t a next year for the Peterson, an outfielder who would have been on varsity for her third season.
But she says she does not have a problem playing on the junior varsity because that is better than not having softball at all.
“I think that would have been really unfortunate just because I know there’s girls that really look forward to that,” Peterson said. “That’s their sport, especially my sister, Molly. I know she was devastated. Everyone kind of went throughout the halls when we found out about Makell and her injury, trying to recruit to keep the program alive.”
Babak suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury and would have been on varsity for her fourth season. She will play at North Central College next season but was the school’s only pitcher the previous two years.
It would have been nearly impossible to compete at the varsity level with such little pitching depth.
“At first I was kind of shocked, but at the same time I knew it was a good decision to make because teams in our conference are really good,” Babak said. “They have really good players that have played for a long time. Just trying to whip together a team with a new pitcher, I knew it was going to be hard. So I think the decision was a really good decision.”
Babak still helps the junior varsity, which is off to a 1-1 start.
And Lutheran isn’t the only school in the Big East Conference without a varsity softball team. Sheboygan Christian has not had one, and neither does Kohler or Ozaukee this year.
That will not stop Adameak or Holzheimer, however, from continuing to promote the sport with hopes of getting more girls interested.
“I think what you find too – more so in small schools because it sticks out – a lot of kids aren’t doing spring sports,” Holzheimer said. “I don’t know if it’s weather, jobs, graduation coming up, if it’s all those factors, that’s what we’re kind of noticing.”