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Bosco’s Corner: CHSAA has to play catch-up

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The Public School Athletic League made one of its smartest moves in recent memory by splitting the Queens varsity softball teams into two distinct categories, an ‘A’ league and a ‘B’ league.

For many years there has been a large disparity between the borough’s top softball programs and the rest of the field, and that difference has been the pitching, specifically windmill pitching. Some teams have it and some don’t and therein lies the difference between the best and the rest.

Essentially, the PSAL removed the top teams from the rest of the pack, forming an elite ‘A’ league, featuring teams with windmill pitchers. There are eight such teams in Queens this year: Bayside, Cardozo, Francis Lewis, Bryant, Townsend Harris, Van Buren and John Adams. The remaining teams have been separated into three ‘B’ divisions.

This move was a longtime coming and softball commissioner Suzanne Poakeart and all involved should be praised for finally balancing the playing field.

As Bowne coach Bruce Bitterman said last week, “Having windmill pitching is the key to everything. I’ve been doing this the last eight years and we haven’t made the playoffs because we didn’t have a windmill pitcher.”

Now the best teams in Queens can square off against each other on a regular basis, giving the teams better competition throughout the course of the regular season. This can only serve to give the best teams in the borough a better chance come playoff time when they must face the top-flight programs in the city, or, to be plain about it, the Staten Island schools.

But while the PSAL has made this historic realignment, the Catholic High School Athletic Association, a league which has been at the forefront when it comes to making things equal over the years, still has a massive imbalance of power in its softball league and that doesn’t seem like it will be changing anytime soon.

While previewing the CHSAA softball season recently, I spoke with several coaches who were realistic about their teams’ chances of making the playoffs this year. For teams like St. Agnes in College Point or Astoria’s St. John’s Prep, those chances are, to quote boxing promoter Don King, “slim and none and slim just left town.”

Donna Castillo, coach of the St. John’s Prep Red Storm, told me she had her entire team returning from last season, something which usually spells success for high school teams. But with St. John’s having to face powerhouses The Mary Louis Academy and St. Francis Prep on a regular basis, making the playoffs just isn’t something you count on.

Since the TimesLedger got into the business of covering high school softball, both Mary Louis and St. Francis Prep have been the CHSAA teams to beat in Queens. With the addition of Archbishop Molloy this season to the varsity fold, you probably can throw the Stanners into that mix as well, if not this year than at least in the near future. The other teams are simply outgunned.

Scores on the order of 16-1 or 22-3 are not uncommon in varsity softball, especially in the CHSAA. The PSAL has taken steps to eliminate such mercy-rule shortened games by splitting the teams up, but this year coaches have already showed a reticence to divulging the final scores of some games to the press because the outcomes were so lopsided.

The fix seems simple enough.

In many other sports, teams from both Brooklyn and Queens co-exist inside the same division, like in girls basketball, when Bishop Kearney competes with Christ the King and Bishop Loughlin plays St. Francis Prep in league games. But in softball, both Queens and Brooklyn play in-borough league games only.

This seems silly when you consider that both boroughs play on an unbalanced playing field.

The CHSAA should, at long last, play crossover games, forming two separated Brooklyn/Queens leagues, one for ‘A’ teams and one for ‘B’ teams. Even if some of the coaches on teams that routinely get blown out would not support the idea, a ‘B’ league would give the weaker teams a chance of winning some meaningful games and then making the ‘B’ playoffs, which would eventually determine a ‘B’ champ.

There is no need for blowouts on the high school level, especially in New York City, which certainly has enough Catholic schools of enough diversity to make up two competitive softball leagues independent of each other.

Chris Wright, the athletic director of St. Edmund Prep in Brooklyn and a CHSAA league official, said the idea has been discussed, but it has not been voted on in years. The league balked at the idea in the past because of travel concerns, economics and time constraints, he said. All are reasonable, but I believe these are obstacles that can be overcome.

The PSAL has long been the whipping boy of media members like myself for its ineptitude and its snail-like progression. The CHSAA should try to avoid this at all costs. Balancing the ability of teams is one way of making the best teams better while giving the historically weaker teams a chance to win as well.

But not this year. This year will again feature blowouts sprinkled with the occasional competitive game.

The PSAL got this one right. When will the CHSAA catch up?

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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