The Central Section’s Board of Managers on Wednesday approved a two-year pilot proposal that will move all softball championship games to a single site starting this season.
Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond will host the section’s six finals, with Divisions II and V set for May 27, and Divisions I, III, IV and VI on May 28.
The proposal passed with 30 of 41 total votes.
It continues the section’s push to move championships in most major team sports to a single-site college or professional venue, following boys and girls basketball starting at Selland Arena in 2005, baseball at Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark in 2014 and girls volleyball at West Hills College-Lemoore in 2015.
“What we’ve found at Selland and what we’ve found the last two years in baseball at Rawhide Ballpark and this year with volleyball is that for a lot of these kids, this is the biggest venue they will ever play in,” section commissioner Jim Crichlow said. “It presents a great experience for the kids.”
For a lot of these kids, this is the biggest venue they will ever play in. It presents a great experience for the kids.
Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow on the move to single-site finals for softball, starting this season
Crichlow said a tentative deal has been reached with Fresno State for use of its 2,453-seat softball stadium through 2017.
After that point, the section will assess the financial viability of remaining at Fresno State. Both basketball and baseball have been profitable endeavors for the section, while the first volleyball finals all in one spot lost a couple thousand dollars, according to Crichlow, who added the revenue could easily be made up in year two at West Hills-Lemoore with a slight increase in attendance.
Crichlow said he could foresee Margie Wright Diamond coming close, if not reaching, capacity given the right matchups, such as last season’s Division I final that pitted Central against Clovis before an overflow estimated crowd of 1,000 at the Cougars diamond.
Fresno State has previously hosted section softball finals in 1996 and 1997, when Clovis rented the facility for matchups against Mt. Whitney and Exeter.
Reactions from local coaches to the change were mixed.
“My first couple of years we did finals at Fresno State and the girls got a kick out of it,” Clovis coach Mike Noel said. “That was really neat. But one of the things about it being at your own site is it’s great for your school and the excitement that goes along with it. And, if you are lucky enough to host the game, you gain some money from the snack bar. But if we’re lucky enough to be in it again, I don’t care if they hold it at Clovis Elementary, I’ll just be happy to be in it.”
1997 The last time a Central Section softball final was played at Fresno State
Central’s Scott Gorton said he prefers leaving the finals at host schools but also sees the positives of having the games at in a first-class facility such as Margie Wright Diamond.
“I’ve coached in the City/County Game (which is played at Fresno State), and the chance to play on the big field is appealing for many of the kids,” Gorton said. “But you work all year for the higher seed and lose home field advantage when you go to a neutral site. We’ve never experienced playing at a neutral site. I guess after a while, it would be something you expect. But because it’s always been done here at home sites, it’s going to take a little adjusting.”