In a time of drawdown and consolidation, the girls high school softball season opening Saturday represents something of a growth field in DODDS sports.

Thirteen teams, playing in two regions, will be joined by Rota and Incirlik at tournament time in May, when Big Schools champion Lakenheath and Small Schools champion Rota put their European titles on the line.

Three new programs join the fray this season — AFNORTH, Hohenfels and Vilseck. They replace soon-to-be-closed Hanau and Würzburg, whose declining numbers eliminated the chances of a final season for either. The closing schools sent their equipment to Hohenfels and Vilseck for use this year.

Vilseck coach Kori Pollock said impetus for the revival of the Falcons’ program, which lapsed about eight years ago, came from principal Duane Werner.

“Mr. Werner wanted to give it a try,” Pollock said Wednesday by telephone. “He had heard there was interest among the students.”

Pollock said resuscitating the program involved some effort.

“It is difficult,” she said. “Fortunately, we had uniforms from eight years ago, and we got some equipment from Hanau.”

Former Patch coach Billy Henry will take charge of the Hohenfels program. He said much of the push to start a Tigers team came from the mother of his star pitcher, Mandy LeVanway.

Darleen LaVanway “started the ball rolling,” Henry said Tuesday by telephone. “We got a lot of equipment from Würzburg, even a batting machine.”

Both Hohenfels and Vilseck will be fielding young teams, their coaches said, but if enthusiasm can replace experience, don’t count out Henry’s Tigers.

“These girls are about the most ambitious team I’ve ever been around,” he said. “They come to me every day and say, ‘We want to practice.’ They don’t care if it’s raining or snowing, they just want to practice.”

Youthful competition is no problem for defending champion Lakenheath, which returns All-Europe catcher and European tournament MVP Lisa McBride and All-Europe centerfielder Jessica Serd. Coach John Gilmore welcomes the new blood in the softball mix.

“Adding any team … is going to help the whole softball program,” he wrote in an e-mail. “... I even look forward to when Vilseck and Patch move up to Division I next year. I can’t think of any team in our conference that wouldn’t want extra competition.”

Regular-season play, which begins with doubleheaders Saturday, weather permitting, at Wiesbaden, Ramstein, Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern and Hohenfels, will be conducted in two regions. East Region teams are AFNORTH, Alconbury, Baumholder, Bitburg, Kaisersalutern, Lakenheath and Ramstein. The West Region is Heidelberg, Hohenfels, Mannheim, Patch, Vilseck and Wiesbaden.

Apart from the risk of more courtesy-rule games, the one-size-fits-all regional concept concerns some coaches for other reasons.

“I think [regional play] will kill the JV program,” wrote Ramstein coach Kent Grosshuesch, alarmed at the number of teams his Lady Royals will play that are too small to field JV teams. “And we travel as much as ever.”

Grosshuesch can console himself, however, that the Lady Royals’ travel and play against small schools will end May 22-24. That’s when Ramstein will host the European divisional tournaments to close softball’s ninth season as an official DODDS-Europe sport.

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