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Chicora area modified pitch softball league thriving as similar leagues fade away

50 years and counting
All-Stars Bar & Restaurant’s Dillon Mayberry eyes the ball for a base hit during Wednesday night's Chicora Area Softball League game against the S.O.I. Holly Mead/Special to the Butler Eagle

CHICORA — The Chicora Area Softball League is celebrating a special birthday this season.

The modified pitch league — longest running of its kind in Western Pennsylvania — began its 50th campaign earlier this month. League games are played at the Saint Patrick’s Church field off Rattigan Road, just outside of Chicora.

“We’ve had a lot of dedicated people keeping this league going and continuing to play in it because they love it,” league treasurer Chris Bellis said. He’s held that position — and other league officer roles — for a number of years.

Dan Filges pitches the ball for his S.O.I. team in the Chicora Area Softball League on Wednesday evening. Holly Mead/Special to the Butler Eagle

League president Kevin Anthony has held that role or that of vice president for 30 years. Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy as a child, his youth baseball career was cut short as a result. He switched over to softball and has been managing a Chicora team since 1990.

“I was diagnosed when I was 9 and couldn’t play too much baseball,” Anthony said. “I’ve been able to stay involved through this league. It’s fun. Chris and I are probably among the top three managers in terms of championships won.”

The Chicora league consists of six teams. It had as many as 10 teams in 1985-86, eight teams as recently as 2016. Each team plays 22 games — from early May through the end of July — followed by two best-of-three semifinal playoff series and a best-of-five championship series.

The league had as few as four teams in 1991.

Kendrick Payno hits a fly ball deep into right field during a Chicora Area Softball League game this season. Holly Mead/Special to the Butler Eagle

“It almost folded a couple of times,” Bellis said. “Harley Flick was president of this league for a long time and did a great job holding it together. He found players, kept things running … I doubt this league is still here if not for him.”

Pitchers are not permitted to use a windmill motion when delivering the ball to the plate. They can rear back and pitch the ball as hard as they can underhanded. Bunting and stealing bases are permitted.

“It’s a lot like baseball in that sense, and we attract a lot of guys who are done playing baseball,” Bellis said. “It’s a way for them to continue playing competitive ball. It’s a faster-paced game than slow-pitch softball.”

Count current Karns City Area Jr./Sr. High School baseball coach Josh “Sluggo” Smith among them. The age of players in the league range from teenagers to a couple of guys in their early 60s.

“I’ve been playing in that league since I was 16 and I’m 39 now,” Smith said. “A number of baseball players I’ve coached at Karns City wind up in the league, too, which makes it more fun.

Brian Best watches the ball soar into the outfield during a Wednesday night Chicora Area Softball League game. Holly Mead/Special to the Butler Eagle

“You play hard. Everyone is playing to win. It’s a way to keep those competitive juices flowing. But at the end of the day, we’re all friends. Hang out together, have a beer, head on home. It’s a great time.”

Yet so few of these leagues remain.

Chicora and Franklin are the only modified pitch leagues still in this region. Three leagues in Erie, leagues in Meadville, Warren, Fayette County and Saxonburg — have folded their tents in recent years.

“Some guys play in both our league and Franklin,” Anthony said. “People are willing to travel to play as much as they can.”

There just aren’t as much of them.

“We used to go play in state tournaments, and there’d be 48 teams there,” Smith said. “Now it’s more like 10 teams.”

Bellis said changes in the job market and more activities available to youths have taken time away from the adult softball player.

“Kids are active in so many things today and parents are committed to their kids,” Bellis said. “They don’t have enough free time to play softball anymore. Factory and mill workers used to get off work at 3 p.m., giving them plenty of time to go home, have dinner, change and get out to the ballfield.

“Now a lot of guys don’t get home from work until 6 p.m. or a little after. They don’t have time to get to the field. Some guys do golf leagues or summer basketball leagues instead.”

Anyone who still wants to play softball, the Chicora Area Softball League will take him.

“We can always find a team for newcomers,” Anthony said. “We’re hoping to add teams in the future. Our league is still going strong.”

Anyone interested in joining the league may call Anthony at 412-603-0985.

This article was updated May 22, 2024 to correct Kevin Anthony’s name.

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