By Tom Rohrer
Fortunately for Olympia area adults, there is a cure for such a void, as the City of Olympia’s Parks and Recreation department provides recreational leagues for various sports, including basketball, volleyball and softball.
Beginning in the early 1990’s, Chris “Crash” Sonnenstuhl, a teacher and sports PA announcer at Olympia High School, has been playing in various Olympia Parks and Recreation softball leagues.
While playing for fun, Sonnenstuhl and his teams have been very competitive in seasons past. However, it seems the yellow ball enthusiast has found a happy balance in the later part of his career.
“I want to win, and I think everyone wants to win or at least play well,” Sonnenstuhl said. “But really, it’s about having fun, and playing in a structured setting.”
Now in the Friday Night co-ed recreation league, Sonnenstuhl’s team features a mix of experienced players, who have played the game their whole lives, and late blooming athletes who have the talent to pick up a new sport quickly.
One of those players is Liezl Carlson, a longtime athlete who is in her second year with Sonnenstuhl’s longtime core team. Carlson enjoys the general demeanor of her new teammates and their style of play.
“Everyone has a positive attitude and is very happy on the playing field or when they get to the park,” Carlson said. “And really, I think that helps us play well. We have a great record so far and I think it has to do with people being happy to show up and be around and play with one another.”
Since starting in the league, Sonnenstuhl’s team has played in several leagues of differentiating skill level.
“When we first started out, we were very average, and it was just kind of unorganized fun,” Sonnenstuhl said. “Then for a while, we were very competitive, and ended up going to state tournaments and regional tournaments. Now, as the core group has gotten a little older, we’re getting closer to where we started.”
Sonnenstuhl noted that the team once finished 8th in the state, and competed well against their competition while traveling to tournaments. However, it hasn’t always been easy, as the player coach has had some nervous moments in the past with regards to player participation.
“What I like about this team is that the players are committed, and they show up consistently,” Sonnenstuhl said. “In the past, there have been some times where I’ve gotten a little agitated if people wouldn’t show up, or would call an hour before to say they couldn’t make that. Right now we get about 14 or 15 players each game.”
One of the longtime teammates of Sonnenstuhl is Amy Earley, a softball enthusiast who played competitively at a young age and has continued to develop a passion for the sport.
“I love it, and every summer I plan what I do around the seasons and the competition,” Earley said.
Earley, who has been a pitcher since the age of five, has realized that the sport is now a fun activity rather than a winning obsession.
“For a while we were very competitive, played in the competitive league, and focused a majority of our efforts on winning,” Earley said. “Now, a lot of the core players are in their 40’s, and we have all seemed to have taken a more relaxed approach these last few years. It’s fun to be on that path with people you have played with and all evolve or develop the same frame of mind. It’s refreshing.”
Despite a more relaxed approach, the team now features a collection of older and younger talent. Recreational softball has a set of rules significantly different than that of normal softball or baseball. There are four outfielders, and each batter steps to the plate with a 1-1 count already assessed, among several other non-traditional rules.
“People come in, and it takes them a bit to get acclimated to the rules or the style of play,” Sonnenstuhl said. “But it’s really tailored for the people who play in the league and makes the games much more enjoyable and competitive.
Sonnenstuhl credits the Olympia Parks and Rec Department for providing recreational opportunities for his team.
“The fact that we’ve been able to play all these years, play in multiple leagues per year, that says something,” Sonnenstuhl said. “It keeps people active and allows people like us to compete. The facilities have improved over time as well, and the league does a good job of notifying people and communicating with teams.”
Off the field, the team remains a unit.
“What’s really cool is that we are friends,” Earley said. “We can joke around, and we are all familiar with one another.”
Whether sitting on the bench, in the on-deck circle, or in the outfield, Sonnenstuhl’s voice can be heard among others, as he constantly provides feedback and positive reinforcement.
“Keeping that chatter going and encouraging the team, that’s what makes sports fun,” Sonnenstuhl said. “We don’t like to be negative. That’s not saying I won’t give someone advice or try to help them with their swing or their fielding. But we want everyone to be into the game and have fun.”
For more information on the Olympia Parks and Recreation softball team, visit olympiawa.gov/community/parks/sports-information