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CEDAR RAPIDS — It started out as a simple conversation among friends.
Cedar Rapids native Jim Ecker asked his friend Joe Drahozal where his daughter, who plays softball at Upper Iowa University, would be playing over the summer.
The answer was an easy one: she wouldn’t be. There wasn’t anywhere to play.
Quickly, Ecker had an idea and immediately set it in motion. And on Sunday, over a year later, Ecker kicked off the first week of the Iowa Women’s Softball League at Kirkwood Community College.
His dream had become a reality.
“I think it fills a void,” Ecker said. “There’s players out here who have been all-conference in college. It’s all the way from, they’ve been all-conference at the Division-I level, some of them are freshman at Division-III schools who didn’t play a whole lot, and everything in between.”
The only competitive summer softball league in the state has four teams made up of more than 50 players from 23 different colleges, including Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Kirkwood and Coe, among others. The four teams will have a doubleheader each Sunday throughout the summer, playing at either Kirkwood or Coe, concluded by a playoff round at the end of July.
And while getting players to join the league wasn’t the easiest process for Ecker, it did fill up. UNI sophomore Jaclyn Spencer said her coach was the biggest advocate of her, and many other Panther players, joining the league.
“Our coach was really excited about this opportunity because it brings all of us back together,” Spencer said. “I’ve played with a lot of the girls in conference and high school, so it’s just cool to see everybody. My coach was like, ‘Don’t pass up a great opportunity.’”
If this league didn’t exist, many players wouldn’t see a live pitch again for several months. Getting to continue to work better in the offseason, Emil’s Hideaway Restaurant Coach Shelby Christ said, is creating a unique opportunity.
“Being able to see live pitching, get out here, get some reps and have fun, I think it’s a great opportunity to keep working on things, but also to just have fun with the game,” Christ said.
Ecker said he hopes to see the league expand next year to six or eight teams, and that he wants to start a branch of the league in the Des Moines area, too. For him, it’s simply allowing as many colligate players into the league as possible.
Until that time, though, Ecker will take what he’s got. But should this year go well, both Ecker and Christ said, there can be endless possibilities for it.
“I hope this year goes well and as planned,” Christ said. “So far so good. Today’s the first day, so we’ll see. But I feel like as the word spreads and these girls tell their teammates back home or at their schools that it’ll grow into next year.”