UVic boasts a wide range of varsity sport options, including basketball, soccer, rugby and swimming, among others. It also has dozens of club sports. However, there is a glaring omission of one of the most popular sports in Canada, especially for women: softball.
That could all change soon, however, thanks to efforts by second-year student Sarah Lewanski to ensure softball comes to UVic and perhaps even see it one day become a varsity sport.
Softball has been part of Lewanski’s life since she was seven. When she started applying to universities, she was disappointed to learn that UVic did not have a varsity or even a club softball team.
In fact, the only form of softball available at UVic is in the form of slow-pitch intramurals, far below the skill level Lewanski hoped for.
The lack of softball at UVic leaves few options for women wishing to pursue the game in Victoria. The Victoria Women’s Fastball League offers a 13-team competitive level of play during the summer months. Lewanski is hoping to put together a team for the upcoming season; however, the games’ timing often conflicts with students’ summer work commitments, and a summer season does not work for the many students who return home for the season. While UVic does not offer a men’s baseball team either, there are more options for men looking to play baseball in Victoria, including the Peninsula Baseball and Softball Association and Victoria Mavericks Baseball Association.
Lewanski coaches at the Victoria Fastball Club, home of the Devils, which runs junior teams at the Squirt, Peewee, Bantam and Midget levels. It also offers a women’s fall ball league, in which Lewanski’s Devils team will participate this fall. However, Lewanski says the potential for growing the sport and attracting student athletes would be much greater if UVic had a team of its own.
“There’s so many girls who want to play,” says Lewanski. “The Devils Association had six girls age out last year, and they all went to UVic. They all would have wanted to play on a team if there was one.”
This is in addition to the many prospective players Lewanski knows already attend UVic. With players who have graduated from the Devils program, as well as a constant feed of new students, she says the demand for softball is certainly high enough to warrant a team. She estimates she has around 20 girls ready to join a team, and aims to grow that number through her connections with the Devils organization.
Lewanski also believes a softball team could attract students from elsewhere in B.C. and the surrounding areas, such as Alberta and Washington, who might otherwise choose a university with a softball program like Simon Fraser University or the University of British Columbia.
“It would definitely make more girls want to come here. I definitely think it would be a draw,” she says.
With the demand clearly present, the next issue to be tackled is finances. Lewanski doesn’t believe this should be a turnoff in integrating a softball team. “Once you buy the equipment [at about $150 per player], you have it forever. You don’t need to buy new ones every year. Girls buy their own cleats, their own gloves, their own bats; once I supply the uniforms and bases, we don’t need to buy anything else.” She adds she would try to find sponsors to cover equipment costs.
One obstacle to overcome, however, will be getting an appropriate field, something for which starting costs are in the tens of thousands of dollars. The current baseball field at UVic is made up of AstroTurf, while softball requires a shale infield. A suitable location for the softball diamond would also need to be found. Further complicating the matter is that a men’s varsity baseball team would likely need a separate field due to the game’s different field dimensions. This would bring up further cost and location issues.
If fields could be secured, Lewanski is optimistic that a UVic women’s softball team, as well as a men’s baseball team, could be a reality in the near future.
“I think it could happen really soon. I just need to get the word out there for all the girls,” says Lewanski.
Lewanski’s vision for the future of women’s softball doesn’t stop with the creation of a UVic team. She hopes to see other softball squads form at schools on Vancouver Island, such as Camosun and Vancouver Island University (VIU).
“What I’m hoping for later in a couple years is . . . we could make a fall ball league with all the other universities and colleges on the Island and maybe SFU, maybe UBC.”
For now, Lewanski’s main goal remains to bring a softball team to UVic and give women the opportunity to pursue their athletic goals.