Fastpitch softball has a rich history

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Fastpitch softball fan Sid Leachman says trying to find games today is like looking for hen's teeth.

“Fastpitch softball is a great game. I started playing in the late 1960s after I got home from the service and I played for more than 20 years,” Leachman said as he watched a game in Englewood. “I am too old to play now but I still love to watch the games. There aren't as many good pitchers as there used to be and there aren't as many teams around anymore. But any time I know the teams are playing, you'll find me in the stands. But it's getting harder and harder to even find games to watch. It's a shame, but it seems the game is slowly dying from lack of participation.”

Leachman, a Denver resident, lived in the Englewood area for many years. When he started playing in the 1960s while in the service, and when he got out of the Air Force in 1965 in Denver, there were hundreds of fastpitch softball teams in Colorado. Today there are fewer than 20 teams total in the leagues in Boulder, Pueblo and Englewood.

Fastpitch softball enjoyed its greatest popularity right after World War II, when it was about the only summer sporting event going on as men returned from the service.

Newspaper reports of the era said some of the best games were played at Denver City Park. The reports said families routinely came out early to get a good spot to watch the game and dad would join them after work. Also, there were reserved seats in the press box for members of the Denver City Council.

Two of the premier pitchers of the area were Harvey Sterkel and Larry Bollig. Sterkel was inducted to the American Softball Association Hall of Fame and Bollig was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

In one classic confrontation, Bollig and Sterkel faced off in an 18-inning game. Bollig fanned 37, Sterkel fanned 23 and Bollig's team won 1-0.

Bollig served in the Navy during World War II, and later in fastpitch softball competition pitched about 1,000 games and won 925. Sterkel moved to Aurora, Ill., where his record from 1956 until 1969 was 345 wins and 33 losses.

The first rules for softball were drawn up in 1934 by the Joint Rules Committee on Softball. The original ball was 16 inches in circumference, but the majority of the sport adopted a ball 10 to 12 inches in circumference.

While the sport was originally advertised as an indoor winter game for baseball players looking to maintain their dexterity during the off season, it gained so much popularity and recognition that it quickly became its own official sport.

The United States and 113 countries have officially joined the International Softball Federation since the organization's formation in 1952. Slowpitch softball has gained popularity. There are rules limiting who can hit home runs and many leagues are coed. However, in recent years, at least in Colorado, men's fastpitch softball's popularity has declined.

However, a recent Amateur Softball Association report stated the popularity of fastpitch softball among girls and woman is at an all-time high and is still increasing.

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