VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
Volunteers often go under-recognized even though they are extremely important to the athletic community.
So important that many of the sporting events and organizations key to our lives wouldn’t be possible without those who donate their time to assist others.
Presidio Sports and Pacific Western Bank have joined forces to change that. This new monthly spotlight series is our way of thanking those that selflessly give themselves for the benefit of many.
To all volunteers making a difference, we salute you.
There was a time when Santa Barbara High and San Marcos challenged Dos Pueblos in girls softball. During those days nearly 35 years ago, Santa Barbara had a youth softball program that developed players for the high school team.
Nancy Eckert remembers those days, and she aims to bring them back.
Eckert heads a group of volunteers who are starting up the Santa Barbara Girls Softball Association.
The SBGSA is currently accepting player applications and has set March 16 as its Opening Day. Information can be found at SBGSA.org.
Eckert, Presidio Sports’ Volunteer of the Month, has been coaching softball and running pitching and skills clinics in the area for several years. She also runs the Santa Barbara Tides, a fall club program as a support for the girls who play All-Stars for the Goleta Valley Girls Softball Association.
Eckert has seen how Dos Pueblos High has reaped the benefits of an organization like the GVGSA. She thought it was time something was done in Santa Barbara to level the playing field.
“If you look at the records of the high school softball teams over the last 20 years, it’s obvious that there’s huge inequity,” she said. “San Marcos and Santa Barbara High struggle to put competitive teams together while DP thrives. “One has to look at the feeder programs. The Goleta Valley Girls Softball — the organization that I played in — primarily feeds DP, and rightly so, It’s a Goleta program. Some Santa Barbara girls play out there, but few and not enough to level the playing fields in high school ball.”
Eckert said for years she urged people in Santa Barbara to restart a league. The previous league fell apart in the early 1990s when the organizers left town and nobody picked up the ball to keep it going.
“I gave them all the reasons that it was in their best interest to do so. Nothing happened,” she said. “It just became time to take action myself. And now we are rolling into our first season.”
Eckert said the response from the community has been mostly positive.
“As a community, we have to give athletes equal opportunity, we also need to provide athletic outlets for girls. This is about more girls playing ball,” she said.
Eckert recalled a time when more than 500 girls were playing softball in Santa Barbara and Goleta combined.
“Now it’s under 250,” she said. “That means hundreds of girls aren’t getting the experience, but it also means that those that are playing aren’t getting as strong of competition and have to travel out of town to play on club teams when simply adding numbers could provide the same opportunity at home.”
Eckert discovered her passion for softball when she started playing in the Goleta Valley league at age 7.
“I grew up playing soccer and softball. I started club level softball in junior high, and continued through high school,” she said.
Eckert was a four-year varsity pitcher for Dos Pueblos, a Channel League MVP and the school’s first college scholarship recipient in the sport.
She remembers playing on strong clubs teams from Santa Barbara.
“The reason we could put together a strong club team made up of local girls is simply because there was a league in Santa Barbara, meaning over 500 girls playing ball in the area.” she said. “That gave us the ability to draw high-level players because the high school teams were all competitive. My 18-under travel team had four Channel League MVPs on it — two from DP, two from Santa Barbara. We were in the top 5 ASA-ranked teams in California. I say that to emphasize the need for a league here.”
Eckert said the SBGSA would encourage athletes from Carpinteria to Goleta to stay home and play.
“Presently, we have close to 10 players in the area playing club-level softball on teams 50-175 miles away from here,” she said.
Eckert has a solid group of supporters to help her run the SBGSA.
“We have a volunteer board of directors with a wide variety of experience. Most of these people have grown children and are giving their time because they see the huge need,” she said.
The board members include Jaques Benoit, Brian Smith, Nubia Siordia, Julie Quevedo, Tori Smith, Ken Goodenough and Tammy Nelson.
Eckert and the board share in the objective of providing girls more opportunities to play the sport they enjoy.
“What matters is that we get some kids who want to play ball, and parents that want to see this organization grow,” Eckert said.