Celebrating 50 years of VGSA

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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Some of them played softball in college. For others, the sport was never more than a fun activity.

No matter where life has taken them, the women who returned to the Vancouver Girls Softball Association fields on Saturday to celebrate the league's 50th anniversary share a special fondness for the people and the place that created special summers of their youth.

"It was always a family atmosphere here," Karena Block said.

Many of those who returned played in an alumni game, demonstrating that skill with bat and glove was born on a T-ball diamond decades ago.

"VGSA didn't just give me an opportunity to play softball here, it gave me the chance to play in college," Diana Reuter said.

Reuter, who played at VGSA from 1989 to 2000, played four seasons of college softball at Iowa State because a coach saw her play in a tournament hosted by VGSA.

Reuter is one of many VGSA players who have played softball at colleges large and small, a source of pride for longtime VGSA volunteers including president Scott Smith.

On Saturday, there was chatter about championship teams, remembering state and regional championships and trips to national tournaments. But there were also memories of the concession stand food, and time spent working to make the diamonds playable. And there were stories of how softball instilled respect for teamwork, teammates and opponents.

"I learned a lot of life skills playing here," said Allison Paladeni, a 2012 Skyview High graduate who in 2014 will play for North Idaho College.

In 1993, Mindy Williams Cleeland was a member of the first softball team at the University of Washington. On Saturday, she was among the 20 women who participated in an alumni game, while another 25 were on hand to watch and reconnect.

John Gay, a longtime area pitching coach who served as pitcher for Saturday's game, remembered an acrobatic play Williams Cleeland made as a young player. But Williams Cleeland said her favorite memories include eating snow cones made in the trailer that served as a concession stand before the permanent structure was built.

Did you know?

• The Vancouver Girls Softball Association, which serves girls ages 5-18, played its first season in 1963.

• In 1980, the VGSA moved to its permanent home inside Salmon Creek Greenway, to the west of Klineline Pond.