It's getting hard to field a softball league in Clarence.
The town's girls softball program has experienced a rapid decline in participants for its house league over the past decade. Now the people who run it are trying to figure out how to reverse that trend, and they're looking to town officials for help.
"We used to be a league of 600 or more girls with seven divisions from T-ball to juniors and seniors," Ken Wolf, house league director, told the Town Board at a meeting earlier this month. "But now we are down to five divisions and have had to consolidate some of the age groups," said Wolf of the program which was founded in 1972.
Declines in youth sports participation are not unique to softball or to Clarence. Data published in 2017 by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute and highlighted by the Washington Post found that athletic participation for children ages 6 through 12 across the country is falling. Almost 45 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played a team sport regularly in 2008, according to Aspen data. Now only about 37 percent of children do.
Wolf told the board that the numbers of players has fallen annually, from 660 players 10 years ago to 250 last year. He said three years ago there were 40 teams, from T-ball to seniors, but that number has fallen by almost half, with only 25 teams participating last year.
To prop up the program, which was founded in 1972, and with 29 fields available in the Town of Clarence, the league plans to reach out to other communities that don't offer a girls house softball program.
That idea has been tried before. About 10 years ago, the Clarence league "adopted" the Town of Akron to sustain its program, but he said that 75 percent of their house league are still Clarence girls. He told the board he would like to open the program to more communities, including the towns of Lockport, Pembroke, Corfu and Alexander — some of which already participate on travel teams, but aren't eligible to play in the town's house league.
Supervisor Patrick Casilio suggested charging more for the out-of-town participants since Clarence taxpayers maintain the fields.
Wolf agreed, but said he wanted to keep the increase modest, between $15 to $25, so the cost did not deter girls from joining the league.
Early bird registration, with a discounted registration fee of $125 for residents, ends this weekend. After that date the registration fee is $175. Wolf said he hoped to have registration closed by March 1. Teams are formed on March 12 and league play begins in May.
Information about registration for the program is online at www.clarencegirlssoftball.com.