Dreams coming true for girls' softball in Bucktown's Holstein and Churchill Parks

Date: 
03/17/2013
Players

Haley Mercado, Raquel Nieves, Ella Borrero, Natalie Hernandez and Rosie Hernandez enthusiastically await better weather for outdoor practice

Girls' softball is on the move. Popular in the suburbs and rural areas, the game is returning to Chicago. Holstein and Churchill Parks are being added to the roster of home fields thanks to the efforts of Karen Loiacono. 

Twenty-six girls from 7 to 10 years-of-age were part of a two team (7-8 and 9-10) lineup in the 2012 season of the Near North Little League. It was the first year for the resurrected League and its Girls' Softball. This year they are aiming for three teams (7-8, 9-10 and 11-12) in the age range of 7 to 12, totaling 36-45 girls. 

Seven-year-old Rosie Hernandez explained, "Some people think it [playing softball] is stressful…but it's not! It gives you confidence…try it." 

"Fun" along with "team" were the words that the group of 5 young players (Haley Mercado, 10; Rosie Hernandez, 7; Ella Borrero, 9; Raquel Nieves, 9; and Natalie Hernandez, 9) and their parents kept repeating. 

"It was fun! But this year we want to win every single game. We want the championship. "In 2012, their first year, they tied for conference championship. "I wanted to try something new and fun." "It's Interesting and fun. It helps keep your mind and body healthy." 

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Esme Borrero and Romary Laboy, parents, talk about logistics for games and practice

Parents are very happy that fast pitch softball is back in the city too. They have had to drive to the suburbs to participate in recent years. Their comments are: "This is exciting! Girls get confidence. They build camaraderie. Win or lose, they support their friends." "After a game, they'll have a picnic...with their competitors." 

Practice, as in so many sports endeavors, is the key to perfecting skills and they have been doing that all winter. Throwing socks at home gives them a way to practice pitching they explained. With a mirror in front of them they can see how their windup is working.  

Now they also have indoor practice time in Bucktown's Holstein Park, 2200 N. Oakley, and they are waiting for the weather to break so they can get out on the field to practice. "Batter up!" will be heard for the 7-8 and 11-12 teams on April 28 with the 9-10 team facing their first competition later that week. A full schedule will be online shortly. They will be playing their home games in Churchill Park, 2007 W. Churchill St., in Bucktown. Regular play ends mid-June and the playoff schedule begins after July 4. 

"As a former softball player and north sider, I am excited about the commitment that Holstein & Churchill Parks have made to our new program," says Loiacono, "Fast pitch softball for girls in beginning to take root on the north side and having a home field is key to attracting families to the program. Softball offers girls a wonderful opportunity to play an organized sport during the summer. Playing a team sports provides these girls learning experiences in leadership, working together for the success of the team and about sportsmanship and fair play."

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Pedro Borrero and Karen Loiacono talk about equipment

Pedro Borrero, one of the coaches, will be registering players in Holstein Park on Sat., Mar. 23, between 9 a.m. and noon. Registration will so be available online or questions can be emailed to Karen Loiacono. She may also be reached at 773.325.7528. While no player will be turned away for financial reasons, the cost per player is $150 for the season. 

What is the story behind this story?
The Near North Little League ended a 17-year run in 2009. Created to serve the children in Chicago's North Loop area, focusing on Cabrini Green and the Marshall Field Garden Apartments, it's constituency no longer existed when the area was gentrified. 

In Little League International 's structure of regions and districts, Chicago falls under the Illinois District 12. Carlton Jones, District Administrator for Illinois-12, Little League International, Joseph Glorioso, President of the the Windy City Wildcats Travel Baseball Program out of Smith Park (for the past 31 years) and Loiacono, a former softball coach in the old Near North Little League and Director of Marketing and Licensing for sports at DePaul University, agreed to resurrect Near North as a member of Little League International, once again. 

In the summer of 2012, the new Near North Little League offered co-ed baseball at ages 7-14 years and softball for girls age 7 to 11. 

Smith Park was home base for baseball, while softball utilized Stanton Park for practices. Baseball enjoyed a successful inaugural season, competing at every age level and winning two district titles, two tournaments and finishing as runner up in two District playoffs. 

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Loiacono talks with another parent, Manny Mercado

Loiacono championed the girls' softball which competed in its first season during the 2012 summer with two teams; one at the 7-8 level and one at the 9-10 level. All games were played against leagues in the newly formed Chicago Girls Little League Softball Conference. 

Near North competed against little leagues from Warren Park, Jackie Robinson West, Horner Park and Hamlin Park. With conference games played in Horner Park, the 12-game regular season had a double elimination playoff. 

The 2012 softball season was a summer of “firsts:”

  • 9-10’s made history by playing in the first ever girls’ softball game at Jackie Robinson Stadium
  • 7-8’s advanced to the conference championship game, finishing second in a closely fought playoff
  • Conference expanded to include girls’ softball teams from Near West Little League, Shabbona Park and Garfield Little Leagues. 

Little League also has a Challenger Division in each District. This is for 6-13 year-olds who are handicapped. Loiacono would like to be able to add a group to the Near North lineup sometime in the near future.

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