Legion softball: Rowan team plays historic first game tonight at Carson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 13, 2017

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Legion Lady Fastpitch Softball debuts tonight when Rowan County hosts Stanly County at 6 p.m. at Carson High.

No matter where it goes from here or how big it gets, this is going to be where it all started.

“These girls are going to look back one day and know that they were the first,” said Todd McNeely, the manager of the Rowan County team as well as commissioner of the five-team Central League. “And as far as we know, the only state this is happening in is North Carolina.”

American Legion baseball was born in 1925. American Legion baseball at Salisbury’s Newman Park has been around since 1936.

It’s taken a while for the girls to have their day in the sun, but, then again, it also took a while before Wonder Woman started kicking around bad guys on the silver screen.

“We wanted to do this several years ago,” McNeely said. “But there just wasn’t enough backing for it then.”

Back in the spring, N.C. American Legion gave its blessing for Lady Legion softball, and former Morganton Patton coach Mike Hasson, state coordinator for Lady Legion, started putting together a league.

“Mike Hasson is a Legionnaire, and that helped get things started, and I went to one of his meetings,” McNeely said. “Then I started making phone calls to coaches. They’ve been planning this season for three or four months in the west, while we’ve been putting things together for three or four weeks. We’ve jumped in there, but we’re going to be ready to go.”

McNeely said at least 11 teams are taking the initial plunge together in North Carolina. Besides the five teams in the Central League — Rowan County, Cabarrus County, Stanly County, Montgomery County and Randolph County — there are another half-dozen teams in a Western League formed from the foothills and mountain counties. There will be a double-elimination state tournament, site yet to be announced, that will bring the two leagues together.

“It’s been a fluid situation, with some teams dropping out late and one team getting back in,” McNeely said. “I’ve remade the schedule a few times in the last week.”

McNeely said a number of teams already have committed for next season, including squads representing Iredell, Mecklenburg and Union counties. Davidson County is sure to join the fun as well.

“Three softball coaches who were interested are getting married this summer,” McNeely said. “They wanted to wait until next year to start.”

McNeely said the first tryout at the Faith ballpark attracted 20 potential Rowan County players, and the team has been able to practice four times at Catawba College.

All games will be doubleheaders starting at 6 p.m., and all will be played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No games are scheduled on weekends because of potential conflicts with travel ball.

The youngest Lady Legion players will be rising high school freshmen, while the oldest will be 19-year-olds.

Rowan County’s coaching staff is made up of Catawba assistant coach Adrian Gantt, Carson head coach Charissa Duncan, West Rowan assistant coach Ericka Nesbitt and McNeely. As manager, McNeely said most of his duties are going to be administrative.

McNeely owns a screen-printing business. That’s been beneficial as far as providing uniforms. The team doesn’t have an official sponsor yet.

The first Rowan County Legion softball team will include players from Carson, South Rowan, West Rowan, East Rowan and Gray Stone high schools, as well as rising freshmen who are familiar names from those Rowan Little League teams that played in back-to-back World Series.

“We’ve got girls from a lot of different schools, but they’re already learning how to be teammates,” McNeely said.

Familiar names include West’s Hannah Pratt, South’s Brooke Lowery and East’s Maddie Trexler.

County borders form the team boundaries for Lady Legion softball. Some Gray Stone players, including Catawba-bound pitcher Maddie Hunter, live in Rowan County.

The schedule is compact. Rowan County has six doubleheaders (games are five innings) scheduled in a regular season that will last a month.

This is a basically a trial run to see how things go, but McNeely expects softball to be a fully sanctioned, statewide American Legion sport when the girls of summer return to the diamond in 2018.

South Carolina already has expressed interest in getting in on the action, so statewide interest could expand to regional interest pretty quickly.

“What we’re going to do this summer is give people a good sample of what this can be,” McNeely said.

Legion softball, like Legion baseball, can teach good life lessons and form lasting bonds and memories. In time, girls might grow up wanting to play for the Legion team.

“A member of the national Legion board is watching us closely,” McNeely said. “This could become something really good.”


Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for school-age, free for 5-under


6-13  Stanly at Rowan

6-15 Rowan at Randolph

6-22 Cabarrus at Rowan

6-27 Rowan at Montgomery

6-29 Randolph at Rowan

7-11 Montgomery at Rowan