It was 2014, and Peter Gauss, father of a then 7-year-old Miller Gauss, was faced with a dilemma.
He could stay in the South Riverdale Little League, where he was the co-president of a competitive league featuring five baseball divisions for boys and girls. Or he could seek another league where his daughter could play softball.
But Gauss and fellow president Patrick Kenny, along with other members of the league, opted for an even better idea: Bring softball to SRLL.
“I try to teach her all the time, Gauss said. “If something doesn’t exist and you want to create something and you want to do something right, sometimes you just have to start it. And that’s really what we did.”
And Gauss wasn’t kidding. He and Kenny just started the league from scratch, without any idea of how big it would grow or how competitive it would become.
At first the league started with two teams who would play each other each week. The league began with coaches pitching to players during games, and later switched to a pitching machine. However, Gauss realized they would have to transition to the players doing the pitching if they wanted the league to become more attractive to other kids.
With some aggressive recruiting by Gauss — who went up to any kids he saw in the street and talked to their parents about joining the league — the dream became a reality. SRLL had itself a growing softball division for players between 7 and 11 with four teams, and a major’s division as well.
“I say it’s these kids that created this program,” Gauss said.
The league would offer an alternative to girls, who could play amongst themselves and not face the pressures that sometimes accompany Little League baseball.
“I thought that it would be good to empower girls to start playing sports rather than just sit at home watching,” said Miller Gauss, now 10.
For Peter Gauss, the softball league offered an opportunity to see his daughter participate in a team sport. The league would also show her the values of camaraderie and sisterhood.
“It really meant a lot to me just to see her going out there and feeling like she’s doing something, not just for herself, but for her teams,” Gauss said.
In just the fourth year since its inception, the softball program has gone through some expected growing pains. After fielding a major’s program in the past, numbers fluctuated, and the league is not offering a major’s division this season.
Enrollment issues aren’t the only thing the league has had to deal with. Gauss and Kenny used to pay to have the fields cleaned and prepared for game day, but had to invest their money elsewhere now in order to maintain the league.
“We couldn’t afford that every year because the numbers were fluctuating, so we took that money, invested it in tractor mowers, built sheds, and we maintain all of the lawns ourselves,” Gauss said.
This season, the league features four teams — the Van Cortlandt Coyotes, the Blackstone Bombers, the Kiwanis Kubs and the KRVC Cardinals. But although there are four teams, Gauss says that sometimes it is as if everyone were on the same team.
The players have all built a special bond and often root for one another.
“These girls, they’ll play, they’ll chant, they’ll cheer, win or lose, they’re all hanging out at the park afterward running through sprinklers and they don’t even care,” Gauss said. “Half the time, girls are even asking us, ‘What, did we win or lose?’ And it doesn’t matter. It matters a heck of a lot more to the parents.”
Eventually, Gauss hopes the league will grow to produce high school softball players, but realizes right now that is not the priority. The softball division is there to offer a great time to girls and provide them with an opportunity to play a game they love while having fun with their friends.
“Softball is sort of secondary,” Gauss said. “It’s just getting them out there and learning the game, teaching them everything.”
CLARIFICATION: The South Riverdale Little League softball program featured in an April 20 story in the sports section of The Press focused on a minors softball division. The league has had a majors division — as well as a minors division in the past — but the work of Peter Gauss and Patrick Kenny were focused on re-establishing a minors program. The story that appeared last week did not make that clear.