A year ago this week, Matt Chandler was putting away equipment. The 2019 North Dakota high school fastpitch season had concluded over the previous weekend after his Thompson team had played in the Class B state tournament.
On Monday, Chandler was getting out the equipment for the start of fastpitch softball in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring high school sports in North Dakota. Out of that shutdown has come the birth of the North Dakota Impact League, an age 18-and-under girls fastpitch conference.
“We’ve never had any organized summer fastpitch league until now,’’ said Chandler, the Thompson High School fastpitch coach. “It’s been our idea to get something comparable to Legion baseball for girls fastpitch. I really think the consequences of the virus were a driving force. And we want to keep this going in the future.
“I think we might have started to make a push for it (without the pandemic). But right now, everybody is hungry to start playing. Not having a high school season I think tipped things in our favor (to organize the league).’’
Had there been a high school season, Chandler said, he isn’t sure the new league would have reached the participation numbers it has.
In addition to Thompson, teams playing in the North Dakota Impact are Pembina County North, Mayville-Portland-CG, Hillsboro-Central Valley, Central Cass, Hankinson, Kindred and Northern Cass.
Those are eight of the 12 teams that make up Sub-region 1 and Sub-region 2 in North Dakota high school fastpitch.
“Every team in our high school region was invited to join,’’ Chandler said. “We were very pleased with eight teams to start with. I think we’ll get more teams in the future. We’ve even talked about adding some (high school) Class A teams in the future.’’
Chandler said Central Cass Scott Kost initiated talks about forming the league.
“He got the ball rolling,’’ Chandler said. “We were all definitely enthusiastic about it.
“It’s an opportunity for kids that was there before.’’
Central Cass has been the state’s dominant team since the North Dakota High School Activities Association sanctioned fastpitch softball in 2012.
Central Cass has been in the championship game in seven of the eight state tournaments, winning four championships, including the last two. The Kindred-Richland co-op has three state championships.
Each of the eight North Dakota Impact teams has made at least one state tournament appearance, including five by Thompson (including the past two), three by Hillsboro-CV and two by Mayville-Portland-CG.
“It will be a competitive league,’’ Chandler said. “Plus it’s an opportunity to work some of the younger kids into this level of competition.’’
League play begins Tuesday, June 9, with teams playing every Tuesday and Thursday through July 2. Each team plays eight regular-season games, with a league postseason tournament to follow.
There are safety guidelines in place, including social distancing, no food allowed in dugouts and no handshakes allowed.
“Personally, I’d like the length of the season to be a bit longer,’’ Chandler said. “But the kids also have basketball and volleyball open gyms and summer basketball leagues. We don’t want to force them to give up something.
“And if we’re coming off of a high school season, the girls could get in 40 games a year.’’