As any Danville area parent who's been involved at any level with youth sports knows, signups for their child's activity are usually about six months in advance of the new season. And the San Ramon Valley Girl's Athletic League (SRVGAL) is no different.
What is different about this particular league is that in spite of the years it's been around, it still tries to keep things fresh, to bring in new players, and to keep the game accessible to girls of any skill level.
Bill Burchard is the newly elected president of SRVGAL, and he said its goal in the coming years is to provide quality athletics for the girls of Danville while working to stay connected to the community and be mindful of the realities of a fickle economy.
"We're the largest girls softball league this side of the Mississippi," he said. "We have 1,200 girls playing from pre-K all the way up to high school. We want to see those numbers grow."
Established in 1974, SRVGAL serves young women along the 680 corridor from Walnut Creek to Dublin. Burchard said the organization has continued to strive to provide the best play it can while also giving young athletes the level of competitiveness and skill they desire.
From pre-K to third grade, they only play at the recreational level. But from then on players have three levels to choose from, each successively more competitive than the others.
"Of course we have our recreational level," said SRVGAL Baseball Commissioner Matt Nyland, "then we have our blue level, where the games are a bit more competitive and the girls are at a higher skill level, and then there's the red level, which is the most competitive."
Nyland said SRVGAL differs from other large athletic leagues in that it keeps the recreational level of play all the way up until high school.
Burchard said, "Everyone will have a place to play and a team to play on no matter how competitive they are or what their skill level. Which is pretty cool."
Burchard, Nyland and Jan Tomsic are all parents who have had children go through the program and become involved with SRVGAL. The league has a 36-member board, showing a mix of new members and old. Burchard represents about a 25 percent turnover of new members joining the organization.
He said that the new blood means fresh ideas and perspectives, which helps the league thrive. "One of the things we've found is that not everyone knows about us. We always assumed that people did, but now we're trying to be a little more high profile. We want to get the word out about the league and what's available to the girls in Danville."
The league marches in the Fourth of July parade and other events but Burchard said the board is continuing to brainstorm ways to get the word out to people.
At the same time, Nyland said they are trying to curtail issues that creep up when an entity grows to their size. "When a league gets this big, you lose that personal touch. We've gotten to the point where we've lost some of that so we're trying to get that back."
One way is through direct communication with parents and players, rather than an impersonal e-mail blast. "We have players try out at the higher levels. A lot of times we just send out a 'thank you for trying out' e-mail. I think that could leave people feeling a little cold. I sent out a personal e-mail to each kid who tried out and I signed it, 'thanks, Matt.' It's a way of reaching out to the parents who have already committed to being in the league."
Another way to stay connected is by showing empathy for things like a falling economy. "Normally, Nov. 1 is the cutoff for signing up and after that you pay an extra $50," Tomsic said. "This year we're not going to raise the fees. We don't want any girl not to play because we brought fees up after Nov. 1."
Tomsic, the league's secretary, said SRVGAL is one of the better deals cost-wise in the area. "We're one of the least expensive extra-curricular activities a girl can do. We can do that because of our size and because we're very well managed."
Tomsic said another draw is that they work to make sure their coaches are trained properly in the style of the Positive Coaching Alliance, or PCA. They hold skills clinics for both coaches and players, and they have girls who've been through the lower leagues come back to help coach the younger girls.
"It's a perpetuation of what we're trying to do here," Burchard agreed. "The girls come back, they see how excited the younger kids are, and it reminds them of why they enjoyed the game." He added with a smile, "And you've got an older girl talking to a younger girl, instead of a parent or a coach. Who do you think they're going to listen to?"
That attitude of making sure the kids have a positive experience pervades the league's philosophy, and it shows. Rosters continue to grow; the league has about 100 teams, 200 coaches and around 1,000 regular season games.
All three commissioners said they hope that continues in the future, as they look at partnering with other leagues to provide inter-league play and other ways of making the game fun and exciting for hundreds of Danville girls.
"When our kids move on, we want the league they leave to be vibrant, with kids still wanting to play," Burchard said. "When girls are school age and they want to come out and play softball, then we've done our job."