As close to 50 spectators filed into Jackson’s Powderhorn Park Saturday afternoon, one thing became clear: Softball had officially arrived in Jackson, Wyoming.
Despite the picture-perfect weather for the 11 a.m. first pitch, the opportunity for travel softball in the Jackson area hadn’t always been so clear.
It’d actually been nonexistent.
That was until Jackson Grizzlies manager Roy Mann joined Bill McPeak in spearheading the operation to build a travel team. The program has truly been built from the ground up, with a selfless donation from a community member supplying uniforms bolstering the effort. Teton County Parks and Recreation handles the organization.
Bringing years of softball coaching experience into Wyoming from the Midwest, Mann aided McPeak in founding the newly minted Jackson Grizzlies, the valley’s first ever girls travel softball team.
With the two at the helm of the team, the U14 Grizzlies kicked off their inaugural season with a doubleheader earlier this month in Riverton, beating Worland but falling to Riverton.
The milestone is massive for girls’ sports in Teton County, as the Grizzlies have ushered in yet another opportunity for travel sports in the region that hadn’t previously been available.
“Not only is this such a great win for those young ladies on the team to play a game that never existed here, but what a great win for young women in the valley,” Mann said. “Now they have another opportunity at a sport that they never had before … that in itself is such a great win.”
With the previous lack of a travel softball team or even a girls’ league, one parent believed that this opportunity will give the girls tremendous experience moving forward.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Angel Wise, a parent of a Jackson Grizzlies player. “I’m really excited for them to finally get to play at home on the field that they’ve always practiced on. I think it’s a really good learning experience to play against an opposition in their own hometown.”
With close to 30 girls in the program, the Grizzlies team consists of many athletes who have played with each other in the past, as well as a group of new athletes looking to join in on the program. Creating a travel team is a logical first step, but the first of many needed to create new opportunities for athletics in Jackson.
The longterm goal is simple for Mann: creating a league of girls that can keep the interest level for softball high enough to bring the girls’ passion to Jackson Hole High School, which currently lacks a softball team. Jackson wasn’t alone however, as many towns in Wyoming lack a softball team, fastpitch softball not being a sanctioned sport until 2019.
While in the past some female athletes have had to play on the boys youth baseball team if they wanted play ball, they will now have the option to begin playing softball from a much younger age.
“I think that we need equivalent girls sports,” Wise said. “I think there is definitely a need. Our daughter has been playing with Jackson Hole youth baseball since she was 7. It’s nice that there is something for the girls to continue with.”
Another father agrees with this statement, expressing that the girls have finally been rewarded for their dedication in the sport.
“They’ve been working at it real hard over the years,” said Kevin Dillon, a parent of two Grizzlies. “I’m really proud of them. They’ve been putting in a lot of work, five days a week. I think it’s good to see the girls getting more opportunities.”
In the first home double-header, the Grizzlies ended up splitting the Saturday series against Riverton and will continue to look for opportunities to compete through the end of July.
Although this is certainly a step in the right direction, the ultimate goal remains clear: convincing the Teton County School District No. 1 board to create a Jackson Hole High School softball team, which some of these girls could play on in just a year or two.
This article has been edited to correct the age division, opponent and name of the Grizzlies’ pitcher. — Ed.