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Alabama High School softball has seen tremendous change

Vickers AHSAA

Story by Griffin Pritchard | Publisher
Photos by Brian Tannehill | Director of Photography

CHOCCOLOCCO PARK — Kim Vickers has been involved with the sport of softball for more than two decades and in that time she’s seen the game change in every aspect; from the rise and fall of slowpitch to the rock and fire windmill motion of today’s fastpitch. 

Vickers: “The game has changed tremendously over the last 20-plus years. In the early years it was a pitcher-catcher game, but now it has become more of a hitter’s game and defense strategy.”

So she knows a thing or seven about the sport. A graduate of Mellow Valley High in Clay County, Vickers spent 27 years as an educator at Benjamin Russell High Schools teaching English and coaching softball at Horseshoe Bend High, where her daughter Hagen currently coaches. 

Vickers: “My background in English, yearbook publishing and athletic administration helped prepare me for the position I have with the AHSAA.”

Her profession changed in 2014 when she began working with the Alabama High School Athletic Association. It shifted once again May 26 when Vickers was named AHSAA Associate Executive Director by newly christened Executive Director Alvin Briggs. Her position requires putting pieces into place and then watching them move in all different directions. 

Briggs: “Her leadership has been essential to the success of the AHSAA and her role moving forward will be even more essential to the success of this organization.”

Retired AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese added to the accolades: “ “This is a truly great move for the AHSAA. Kim Vickers is a rising star with unlimited capabilities and will be key in moving the AHSAA forward.”

Off the field,  Vickers is also one of the AHSAA’s most knowledgeable resources concerning AHSAA By-Laws and other regulations such that the Central Board of Control approved for her to serve as the Eligibility Coordinator allowing her to render official eligibility rulings to the member schools. This was the first time in the 100-year history of the Association that someone other than the Executive Director has had that authority.

On the field, the chess match of pitcher versus batter was played on the grandest stage over the past week at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park, an infinite upgrade in both facilities and stature from Montgomery’s dated Lagoon Park. She was key to negotiating the change of venue. 

The 2021 AHSAA State Softball Tournament – contested on the same fields that will in the weeks prior hosted both the Great South Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference softball tournaments – puts the sport on a stage equal to high school football and baseball.

Vickers: “Our girls deserve to have an opportunity to play championships on the best facilities available, and softball is no different. We have had some great years and great championships at Lagoon Park and Montgomery has been good to the AHSAA. However, moving the event to Choccolocco Park has provided our championship the opportunity to step-up. And the atmosphere and experience has been great.”

For the first time, championship games have been played inside a Signature Stadium completely changing the tenor of the game into something special and a goal for the teams to strive toward. Now it’s not just getting to the blue map game, but it’s getting to the blue map game inside of a Signature Stadium. 

Talk about setting the stage for a thrilling end to a season. And the games played there have been worth the hype. No. 7 Satsuma beat No. 6 Ardmore in the 5A final to win the championship – the first at the new facility – two games to one. Fifth-ranked North Jackson came out of the loser’s bracket to sweep No. 1 Rogers to win the 4A championship. And in the softball season finale, Plainview swept Prattville Christian 2-1, playing into almost the early morning. 

Vickers: “The sport of softball is growing across our state and will continue to grow as long as we have girls who want to play. While we have thousands of student-athletes that play the sport, it is not the largest group. There we have lots of room to grow.”

According to the AHSAA – nearly 90,000 boys and 57,000 student-athletes competed in some sort of sport during the 2018-2019 season showing an uptick of 0.6 percent in the boys’ sports and 6.3 percent in girls’ sports. 

The largest sport is – obviously – football (32,366), followed by baseball (14,100), boys’ basketball (13,648), volleyball (10,310) and softball (9,752).

Girls’ Basketball, Boys’ Outdoor Track, Cheer, Boys’ Soccer and Girls’ Outdoor Track fill out the remainder of the list. 

With that many student-athletes competing, safety becomes paramount. According to Vickers, the AHSAA is working to address those concerns and be sure that player safety is preeminent.

Vickers: “Safety is always at the forefront of education-based athletics, and having safety guidelines and measures in place for softball is no different. Because bats are getting hotter, the National Federation of High Schools has changed the core poundage of balls three times since I became involved and are looking to lower it again. Batting helmets and catchers’ masks must have the “NOSCAE approved” marking which was a big step for safety.” 

NOSCAF – the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment – according to their website notes that their use of “third-party certification enhances the integrity of all NOCSAE standards, giving athletes confidence that their athletic equipment has been tested by a neutral, independent body to meet the highest performance standards. This is the most stringent and unbiased way to determine standards compliance.”

But what’s next – “pitch and inning counts are always being discussed as well as the use of a double firstbase.” With that much forethought being put into a sport that was once an alsoran behind the “big boys” the sky really is the limit. 

But safety is just a chapter in the book that Vickers has been writing as part of the AHSAA’s leadership. She played a vital role in starting the AHSAA investigative team, led the committee on non-traditional students’ inclusion, and assisted with the student-leadership program. Working directly with the AHSAA Medical Advisory Board, the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Alabama State Department of Education, her involvement and leadership were essential in helping other AHSAA staff members assemble “Return to Play and Best Practices for Fall, Winter, and Spring Sports” for member schools concerning the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020-21 school year.

Founder/Publisher of Central Alabama Scoreboard. Former sportsguy, managing editor, currently working for the City of Tallassee as a Public Information Specialist and grant writer.

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