On a recent Sunday morning at Curt Flood Field in Lower Dimond, teenage girls from the Oakland Girls Softball League (OGSL) are prepping to play a casual game.
Amanda Wentworth, the league’s new president, wasn’t planning to coach on this particular day. But down one coach and missing about half the players needed to field one of the teams, she steps in.
“We’re missing a short[stop]!” yells Wentworth.
She asks the coach from the other team to let her have some of their bench players so she can complete her lineup.
Back in the dugout and now with a complete (albeit partially borrowed) team, Wentworth asks each player to name their favorite candy—an ice-breaker for the players who don’t know each other. Skittles, snickers, and “anything sour” are some of the responses.
The league, established in 1993 as the Oakland Bobby Sox League, serves youth between the ages of 5 and 14 and uses fields across Oakland during its spring and fall seasons. The organization is entirely volunteer-run. Coaches and assistants—even the president—aren’t paid.
The main spring season is 10 games long, played from February through May. The shorter “fall ball” season consists of three weeks of clinics and three games played over an additional three weeks. Each spring, the league kicks open its season with an opening day ceremony and carnival, and organizes field trips to A’s games.
Registration for the spring 2024 season will open in November and run through January.
Wentworth is no stranger to the league; she was a player 23 years ago before volunteering her time as a coach and has also served on the league’s board. For most of those years, enrolling enough players to field full teams wasn’t an issue for the OGSL. But that changed in 2020 when the spring and fall seasons were both canceled due to the pandemic.
Whereas enrollment in the spring league routinely sat well over 300 players prior to 2020, that number had plummeted to just 168 by spring 2023.
Wentworth attributes the decline to a mix of factors: extracurricular activities halted because of the pandemic, families moving away during that time, other families not feeling comfortable with their kids resuming group sports, parents with competitive players transferring their kids to other leagues, and an increased lack of awareness about the league.
"Everyone was struggling to make anything happen—even our board was down to four people when we usually have 10 to 15," she said. "Running everything was difficult."
Each game requires anywhere from three to five volunteers per team, said Wentworth—two coaches, a dugout manager, and additional helpers for warm-ups. Ideally, each team will also have two or three assistant coaches for the season. A full squad will typically have 12-15 players.
Board member duties include helping to oversee the registration process, constructing teams, creating game schedules, hiring umpires, and working with Oakland’s Parks and Rec department to get field permits and ensure the diamonds are equipped for games and practices. Board members are also responsible for fundraising and player and coach development.
"We try to have a pretty extensive board to spread the load of responsibilities," she said. "The whole league is truly a team effort."
Wentworth said the league relies a lot on parents of longtime players, who are already familiar with what’s required.
The player age group that’s declined the most, she said, is the 12-14 year-olds. It’s a trend that started even before the pandemic, said Wentworth, causing the league to combine its 12- and 14-year-old groups just to have enough players to form a team. Five-year-olds are also hard to recruit, she said, because it’s an age group that’s typically new to sports to begin with, while 8 and 10-year-olds are the easiest.
"One of my goals is to get enough girls to register, to separate the groups again," said Wentworth.
The fall season that just ended had 174 registered players, more than the league typically sees. Wentworth believes it’s a good sign for what’s to come in spring.
"Softball is my favorite community that I'm a part of," she said. "It's so fun to have friends I used to play with, who I can still play with or call on to help me. It becomes a family sport—entire families come to watch."
Wentworth’s immediate aim as OGSL president is to increase registration to 500 girls as early as next year. In the long term, she hopes to see every OUSD high school field a competitive softball team.
Next spring, she’ll be an assistant coach at Fremont High and plans on helping OGSL with coaching clinics and anywhere else she’s needed.
"I'm hopeful,” she said. “We could have twice as many girls in the spring as we did this fall.”