Softball at Archway School keeps growing

Fri 14 Dec 2018

Under the partnership of former GB Slowpitch Head Coach Mark Saunders and Head of PE Lewis Chapman, a softball programme that started at Archway School in Stroud, Gloucestershire 12 years ago has gone from strength to strength, with teams from the school now competing successfully in the Bristol Softball League.  Below, Mark Saunders reports on more success for the programme in 2018.

Following on from the success of our first year competing in the Bristol Softball League in 2017, and with a growing number of students wanting to play softball, we decided to enter a second team in the league this year. 

Initially, we assumed they would play in Division 3 with the existing team being promoted to Division 2, but a spot became available in Division 2 which no other team wanted, so we took it.

This actually simplified the set-up for us, as it meant travelling on one evening only rather than on two evenings, which would have been the case if our teams had played in different divisions.

The core of the team from 2017 remained and became Archway Thunder, with myself as player/coach.  Meanwhile, a lot of the newer players (plus a few others from last year) became Archway Lightning, with Lewis Chapman as player/coach.  Aside from the Cotswold Spring Tournament where we entered two teams, we combined the squad into one team for all other tournaments.


Tournaments

The season kicked off with the GB Open at Farnham Park, where we managed to get to the final of the Rec Division but lost narrowly to a strong scratch team from the GLSML made up mostly of NSL 1 or NSL 2 players.

A week later we played in the Rec Division at the Bristol First Ball, making sure that all the players who hadn't played the week before got selected.  Having been runners-up last year at this tournament, where we lost a tense final to Friendly Fire, the extra year of experience paid off.  This time we remained undefeated and beat Friendly Fire in a repeat of the 2017 final.

At the GB Open, GB Men’s Fastpitch Team player Matt Tomlin talked to some of the boys in the team and persuaded a few of them to try out for the GB Under-19 Fastpitch squad.  Two players, Josh Stanley and Joe Wright, got selected.

League play

Both Archway Thunder and Archway Lightning found the going tougher in Division 2 in the Bristol League than Thunder had the year before in Division 3, with the other teams’ offenses being noticeably stronger.  Archway Thunder by then were more of a known quantity in the league, but no one expected Archway Lightning to be as competitive as they were.

The teams eventually finished the season first and second in the division, with an 11-3 record for Thunder and a 7-7 record for Lightning.

The league gave us permission to play the two head-to-head games at Archway School, which meant we could get family and friends along to support and even managed to get a PA system with a commentator (thanks, Tony Soteriou) to help explain the game to the spectators.

Josh Stanley and Leonie Colley from Archway Thunder won the Division 2 home run titles, and Josh actually topped all three divisions with a very impressive 23 home runs, seven ahead of GB player David Grey.

The season finished with Archway entering a team in the Cotswold Autumn tournament.  Although we had six Thunder and six Lightning players in the team, four had only started playing this season and we were missing both teams’ regular shortstops.  However, youthful exuberance prevailed and we won the tournament, beating Coventry Blitz 10-5 in the semi-final and a very strong Nottingham Sheriffs team (boosted by two NSL players) by 11-6 in the final.

Josh Stanley won the Tournament MVP award with some clutch hitting and a spectacular game-saving outfield catch in the semi-final. 

We have now put ourselves forward for the newly-formed NSL 3 South Division and I'd like to see both the team and the players progress as far as possible. 


Cotswold Tournament

I'd been considering whether to get involved with the Cotswold Tournament for some time, and with the need for a regular source of income for the Archway Softball programme, I have now offered to run it.  Happily, founder and organiser Mike Le Fevre accepted the offer, and we hope to build on what has been a very long-running and successful tournament.  The hope is to use the tournament to raise money for Archway Softball, allowing us to keep building the programme and developing players.

There are no definite plans yet for changes to the tournament, but we will be talking to teams to find out what they want and looking for ideas to improve the competition.  And we'll be making sure the students are fully involved in both planning and running the tournament.

As you can probably tell, I'm really proud of what we've achieved over the past two years and I hope the Cotswold Tournament gives us the opportunity to keep softball at Archway School for many years to come.  But we still need other funding, so we will be actively looking for any further grants, donations or sponsorship to allow us to achieve our aims.

Background

The softball programme at Archway School began in PE lessons 12 years ago when Lewis Chapman started at the school, and it began to be taken more seriously when softball became a Sainsbury's School Games event in Gloucestershire and a local grammar school, Marling, won it.

Initially, the programme was focused on a core of strong GCSE PE students, but softball then became an Under-18 event in the School Games as well, offering a progression from normal school for those players who had done well.

For the past five years softball has been on the curriculum from Year 9 (Under-14) onward, and for the past three years from Year 8 (Under-13).

About four years ago Mark Saunders and Lewis Chapman began discussing how to take things further.  Mark was a driving force and had the knowledge and experience to organise the programme, while Lewis promoted it in the school and sourced students that had potential and the right attitude to join.

There are open softball session three lunchtimes a week in the sports hall from February half term until the field is good enough to go outside, and around 25-30 students come to each session.  Older students are now tasked with helping to run the sessions.

Students are then invited to after-school Academy sessions by Lewis Chapman to make up the teams that will play in the Bristol League, and at the beginning of the past season there were 28 students attending (14 per team).  But as the season progressed and students were lost to injury and examinations, more 14-year-olds were brought through from Year 9.

There is also an intramural league at the school, run as an inter-tutor event where teams are ranked on position and earn points towards the inter-tutor trophies.

Lewis Chapman said, “The main factors in our success have been Mark Saunders’s knowledge of the game, the Bristol Softball League opportunity, and the fact it’s the only truly mixed-gender sport and mixed-age sport that we do.  As a result, softball is now seen as equal with other sports.

“What also helps are the links we have for our Sixth Form to carry on playing, and the push from the PE department (well, me at least).  And the opportunity to have a day off school to go to the School Games also helps as a nice little bonus!”

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