Benny Munoz/The Madera Tribune
TEC Gymnastics coach Alfonso Contreras talks to his softball players during opening day ceremonies.
When the Bobby Sox softball organization pulled out of Madera two years ago, it left the city without one of its major athletic outlets for the girls and young women of the city.
Enter Melissa Mares and Cynthia Armiento.
Madera National Little League softball was started by the two softball aficionados almost immediately and now has established itself as a permanent fixture.
“Madera is a big softball town,” said Armiento, vice president of the Madera National Little League. “Melissa called me because we weren’t going to have Bobby Sox anymore, so we weren’t going to have any softball in Madera. Melissa said, ‘No, that can’t happen. We need to do something.’ So she called me, and we got it started.”
For Armiento, like many of the parents in Madera, it was personal. Armiento had been around softball her whole life. Since she was 5 years old, Armiento had played in Bobby Sox, as well as travel team softball and college softball. It was an experience that she didn’t want her daughters, Jillian, 7, and Brielle, 5, to miss out on.
“This is where the girls build their friendships, this is where the girls stay out of trouble, this is where they learn to grow. They come together and they learn discipline, they learn sportsmanship,” Armiento said.
Marci Salinas, a parent involved with the softball league, had also grown up playing softball, and found it important to get her daughter into the sport.
“I felt like it created lots of memories and friendships as a young kid, and I feel like it gives my kid that social outlet that she may not be getting at her own school,” Salinas said. “I feel like she’s gained a lot of friends,that are outside of her normal group. She loves playing softball.”
After Armiento and Mares got the ball rolling, Madera National Little League made the decision to take the budding softball program under its wing. Since then, the softball league has been growing slowly but surely.
“Last year we had four major league teams, this year we have five, so we’re growing,” Rolando Arredondo, president of Madera National Little League said. “Things take time to develop, and it takes time to develop people’s trust in a new league.”
Most noticeably, the number of softball board members tripled in a year. Last year there were only three softball league board members. Now, there are nine.
The softball league does face some challenges. Mostly, getting the community to know that “Little League” now includes softball. Gathering volunteers is another important hurdle that the softball league needs to clear.
“We need more parent volunteers, especially because we’re new,” Armiento said. “We’re non-profit, so we’re all volunteer-run.”
With that being said, Armiento commends her board members, who she says are nothing short of incredible.
“They work really, really hard,” Armiento said. “They all have families, they all have jobs, and they still get the word out there, and because of that, we know we’re going to grow.”
Armiento also praised the city of Madera.
“They do an awesome job of always keeping Lions Town and Country Park clean. They keep the grass green and the dirt nice. It takes a lot of work, and the city of Madera always does a great job.”
Above all else, it’s important to everyone involved with the softball program to make sure that the kids are a top priority.
“The most important thing is that the kids and the community are first to me,” Arredondo said. He noted that the child you’re coaching could grow up to be someone important, so it was important to be a good coach to them. “That could be your doctor. It’s important for me to give to them, because I know that they’ll give back to us.”
The emphasis placed on the players is hard to miss. Ask any player if they love to play softball and they’ll say yes.
“I’m always happy, because I’m always playing softball,” said Gabriela Medina, 10.
“You forget that these girls need to learn to love the sport, they need to have fun in order to want to get better, and to want to come to practice,” Armiento said, “and that’s what it’s about. Loving the sport.”
Kiku Gross is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.