For the last several years of the Sheridan Recreation District’s co-ed adult softball program, players have had to throw a different size softball depending on whether a man or a woman approached the plate as a batter. 

This isn’t a new practice across the country, but it certainly slows down the game and, honestly, is ridiculously annoying. I don’t usually use column inches to complain about stuff like this; I’d much rather promote all the wonderful things happening in Sheridan. But, this one irks me. I’m not trying to single out Sheridan’s recreation district — its staff members have simply copied rules used in other leagues across the country — but it’s a rule that shouldn’t exist in any co-ed recreation league.

According to various sports websites, an 11-inch softball is used by boys and girls fast pitch softball teams when the players are 10 years old or younger. The same size ball is used by women’s slow pitch teams, women’s senior teams and co-ed teams when a woman is up to bat. The 12-inch ball, though, is used for men’s and women’s fast pitch teams and when men are up to bat in co-ed slow pitch leagues.

As a longtime softball player, the rule drives me crazy — and I’ve heard the same from other recreation league players in Sheridan County. Growing up, I don’t even remember playing with the smaller, 11-inch softball. That’s right, 12-year-old girls can throw and hit a 12-inch softball hard, effectively and consistently.

So, it’s always been odd to me that co-ed slow-pitch leagues assume grown women cannot do the same. And, to be fair, some can’t. But, neither can some men. I know plenty of women that actually play better ball than men. I know men who are more talented at softball than women. That’s all OK.

Slow pitch and fast pitch softballs typically have different compressions and, clearly, the ball is thrown at a different speed in each style of play. Both factors will impact how far the ball will fly when it’s struck. But, many, many other factors, some of which have nothing to do with gender, affect that as well — bat speed, bat composition (which is also regulated), player mechanics, player strength, timing, pitch selection, etc. 

With all of those variables, along with the obvious variable that some softball players are simply more talented than others, regulating the size of the ball seems silly. Do they switch the size of the basketball used in co-ed recreation leagues based on which player has the ball? Of course not, that’d ruin the game.

So while the change in ball size may have been done with the best of intentions, its result has been a slowing of the game and frustration among some players.

I love softball, and the size of the softball won’t deter me from continuing to play the sport. But, when it comes to co-ed recreation leagues, we should remove the out-dated rule regarding ball size that assumes talent based on gender.