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New softball partnership a step closer to Tokyo 2020

21 February 2017

SOFTBALL: Some of Australia’s best female softball players will have the opportunity of a lifetime when they join the Chicago Bandits to play professionally in the USA this year.

Softball Australia announced today one of the most pivotal agreements in women’s softball history, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) in the USA for the 2017 season and beyond. 

After months of negotiation between Softball Australia CEO Chet Gray and NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf, today’s announcement is another step forward for Australia’s future success in international competition and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The agreement will allow for eight Australian athletes to experience the daily training environment and play for the Bandits in one of the best softball competitions in the world.

The Chicago Bandits play home games at the impressive Ballpark at Rosemont, the only stadium in the USA built for a women's professional sports team. They have been NPF champions four times, including the past two seasons. 

The agreement also allows Australian high-performance coaches to work with the Bandits’ coaching staff during the season.

“This partnership between Softball Australia and National Pro Fastpitch is a critical step forward for our women’s high-performance program looking towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Softball Australia CEO Chet Gray said.

Australia is currently No. 4 in the WBSC Women’s Softball World Rankings.

“Our program needs to focus firstly on improving our performance from the 2016 [WBSC] World Championship and then on qualifying for the Olympic Games.

“This agreement with the Chicago Bandits and NPF will ensure that many of our identified athletes have a chance to participate as a team together in one of the best competitions in the world,” Gray continued.

In 2016, Aussie Spirit players Vanessa Stokes, Stacey Porter, Chelsea Forkin and Taylah Tsitsikronis played in the NPF. The experience proved invaluable to those players in the lead-up to the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship.

With eight more players to join the league this year, most of the Aussie Spirit squad will be getting high-level professional competition and daily training under the guidance of expert coaches in the lead-up to the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship and any subsequent Olympic qualifying events.

NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf said the league wanted to include more international players to ensure it could showcase the best available softball talent, and to help develop the game globally.

“It is a conscious strategy of the league to integrate more international players and continue to have a positive effect on the global development of the game of softball,” Kempf said. 

“Being able to include Australian players on a much larger scale in the NPF in 2017 is a win for our sport.”

Chicago Bandits General Manager Toni Calmeyn said: “The Village of Rosemont and the Chicago Bandits are thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Softball Australia in an effort to continue to elevate the sport of women’s softball. We are looking forward to a great season!”

The National Pro Fastpitch, an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2002, is a five-team league that takes place June through August in the United States. The NPF, with franchises in Akron, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Orlando, features players from the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

In 2017 NPF regular season action, 120 games are scheduled leading up the Championship Series, held in mid-August. Regular season action will conclude August 13, with the top four finishers moving onto the Championship Series.

The 2017 season will be the Bandits 13th season in the NPF, who play their home games at the Ballpark at Rosemont, the only stadium in the USA built for a women’s professional sports team. They have been NFP champions four times, including the previous two seasons.

Softball’s profile continues to rise, as last year, the Houston-based Scrap Yard Dawgs signed the first million-dollar contract with Olympian Monica Abbott.

National Pro Fastpitch/WBSC

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