Olympic Gold Medalist for Team USA and Former National Champion with the UCLA Bruins Natasha Watley hosted opening day for the 11thyear of her youth softball league on Saturday, June 8, at St. Andrews Recreation Center.
Over 100 girls from South Los Angeles came out to start off the 8-week summer program that will teach them the ins and outs of softball, along with life lessons on teamwork and dedication. As a former softball player for UCLA, Watley also gives college softball players an opportunity of mentorship as the coaches of the 27teams. Partnered with the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, The Natasha Watley Softball League (NWSL) continues to provide its no-fee softball summer program at parks throughout Los Angeles for girls ages 8 to 15.
Watley was inspired to start the youth softball league in 2008 after giving a motivational speech at a high school in South Los Angeles. A student asked her what softball was and Watley knew then that there needed to be more exposure of softball in Black and Brown communities. In 2009, the Natasha Watley Foundation was founded with a goal to teach girls how to play softball. Many of the girls who sign up don’t know anything about softball, but the beauty of the NWSL is in its exposure of the sport. Watley has recently been named a Major League Baseball (MLB) Youth Softball Ambassador for her community work.
“We started the league to give opportunities to young girls in LA to learn how to play softball,” said Watley. “Most of them, when they start, they’ve never even heard of softball so we’re teaching them the game. Through that we hope that they also learn about teamwork, commitment, and dedication.”
During opening day, 126 girls came to the field at St. Andrews Recreation Center and got a glimpse into softball. They were given their uniforms and equipment including gloves, bats and sun visors, and more. They also got a chance to meet their teammates and coaches that will guide them through these eight weeks. The teams are based on different recreation centers including St. Andrews, Jim Gilliam, Baldwin Hills, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. During the first half of opening day, the girls mingled and played name games with their new teammates and coaches. They spent the latter half of the day on the field learning about softball basics, including how to do different stances, how to pitch a ball, and how to use softball equipment.
The age range of the girls is 8 to 15 so that they can potentially go on to join their high school team and eventually a college team. This was the path for Janell Brown, who is now the first NWSL league player to receive a full ride collegiate softball scholarship. She will be attending South Carolina HBCU Claflin University in the Fall and is also a coach for NWSL this summer. Along with teaching young girls how to play softball, Watley also hopes to inspire the girls to come back and coach.
“The older you get the more willing you are to help someone on the field so it’s a good transition to go from playing on the field to coaching,” said Brown. “The girls are full of energy and I want them to learn how beneficial and fun softball can be.”
Coach mentorship is a unique aspect of NWSL. The coaches are all college athletes, including some heavy hitters, like Kinsley Washington, who made the championship winning hit for UCLA at the Women’s College World Series last week. Watley gives these up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to learn about coaching and giving back through coaching the youth league players, attending workshops, and participating in programs overseas. The coaches are also an inspiration to the girls showing them that someone who looks like them is successful in softball.
For the next eight weeks, the 27 teams will play each other at parks around South Los Angeles and learn about softball, healthy lifestyle choices, leadership, and sportsmanship. The Natasha Watley Foundation also offers a Spring softball league in the San Fernando Valley. For more information, visit natashawatleyfoundation.org.