City of Surrey Hosts Women’s World Softball Championship

Some of the world’s top softball teams came to KPU’s backyard to play ball

(Kyrsten Downton)
(Kyrsten Downton)

The only diamonds these women love are made of gravel and have three bases, a home plate, and a pitching rubber.

From July 15 to 24, Surrey hosted the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championship at Softball City in White Rock. It was the largest single sporting event in Canadian history.

Teams from 31 different nations around the world came together to compete for the gold. This turnout is the highest number ever in the tournament’s history.

Sara Riske, 27, a second baseman for Team Canada, was excited about the impressive turnout.

“It’s pretty amazing. Every team we played has fans here, whether they live here or they have family coming in. It’s an experience. I’m loving it,” the Pan Am gold medalist says.

It took five years of planning for Surrey to get ready for it’s first world championship. In 2013, the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship committee, backed by Councilor Tom Gill and former mayor Dianne Watts, presented their winning bid to the International Softball Federation in Columbia.

However, more preparations were needed to get Softball City ready for the World’s Championship, most notably the condition of the park itself.

“We knew when we went into the bid that one of our Achilles heel was the condition of the park at the time. The field wasn’t good enough for national play,” says Greg Timm, the president and chairman of the Canadian Open Fastpitch Society.

CBC reported that the City of Surrey spent a total of $1.5 million on the park upgrades. This included renovations on the bathrooms, installing bleacher stands in the outfield of the main diamond, and upgrades on the field itself.

“We had to work with the city and set some conditions out on how the fields needed to be prepared. The city has been tremendously supportive. The guys here with the boots on the ground have just done a tremendous job in making this a truly international venue,” says Timm.

The committee also had to plan their annual Canadian Open Fastpitch tournament, which took place at the same time as the World’s Championship. Usually the tournament has a women’s division along with the youth divisions, but they had to separate it this year.

“For many of the players, it’s the biggest tournament they will play in,” says Timm. “They get to play at a high level of ball with great officiating, and we try to make an event where the players feel it’s very important.”

Along with the committee, there were over 700 volunteers helping both tournaments, and Timm believes that neither tournament would have been possible without them.

“It’s the tremendous civic pride from the grassroots of this community [that made] this event happen,” he says.

Timm estimates that about 7,500 people came to watch the games every day of the tournament. Many of these were Canadian fans ready to cheer for their home team. Team Canada ended up placing third after losing 11-1 to Team Japan, whereas Team USA ultimately won the Championship with a 7-3 victory over Japan.

23-year-old Allyson Carda, a pitcher for Team USA, shared her team’s excitement for the win.

“This is what we have been working for—for the past few months and years for some of the girls on the team—so to win a world championship is pretty fun,” says Carda.

While the victors certainly feel tremendous pride for taking home the gold, ultimately all players in the World Championship can feel a sense of accomplishment for their involvement in the tournament. Throughout the games, various stories of good sportsmanship and comradery began to outshine the actual playing of the sport.

More experienced teams such as Team Canada gave pointers to other players on different teams, despite being competitors. Team New Zealand pooled their money together to buy the players from Team Kenya new bats and cleats to help them from slipping.

Riske, a Richmond native, knows the importance that the players’ actions on and off the field have on young spectators during this tournament.

“The very first Canadian Open tournament I attended, I was pretty young. I remember trying to get everyone to sign my ball, and looking up to all the players,” she says. “It had a really big impact on me.”

Spectators also shared the good sportsmanship in many ways. Fans showed their support for Team France by wearing their flag and colors a day after the Nice attacks. Many fans also raised money for various teams to help them with their travel and other expenses to participate in the Championship.

“I feel so proud of our citizens. People are just unbelievably overwhelmed by what our community is doing for them,” says Timm.

Jorja Rosell is an 11-year-old player who volunteered as a bat girl in the Canadian Open tournament. She was most excited about seeing all the different teams play, especially the ones that rarely get to play at all.

“Everyone that didn’t get to play all year gets to play now. Like Veneuzuela, Siberia—they barely have enough [money] just to come,” Rosell says.

Rosell also hopes that she can play for Team Canada some day, showing the impact the tournament can have on youth.

“Softball is a huge sport,” says Riske. “To have 31 countries here is going to build it and get the word out to the community. There are girls here that have never seen the sport before who are telling me that they want to start playing just because of this tournament.”

Timm also hopes that the Women’s World Softball Championship was able to live up to their vision and to inspire youth like Rosell.

“What we want to take out of this is a legacy—the spirit of the community, the children that have been inspired by this sport—and hopefully prove the fact that sports contribute in life.”