Fastball out of Pan Ams

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:55 AM ET

ST. THOMAS -- A ripple of resignation spread on the fourth day of the Canadian fastball championship yesterday with the news the Pan American Sports Organization has dropped fastball.

"It's a disappointment," said the head coach of the Canadian Pan Am program, Mark Smith. "It's been a Pan Am sport since 1979 and Canada was gold in every quadrennial."

The Pan Am organization also axed in-line hockey and racquetball. The next Pan Am Games are in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.

The Canadian Olympic Committee said it had been fighting for the continued inclusion of the three sports. "Canada has a strong history of medal success in all three sports and the removal of these sports may diminish our overall medal count at future Pan American Games," COC president Michael Chambers said in a news release.

"There was a battle going on to keep it (fastball) in the Pan Am program," said Kevin Quinn, president of Softball Canada, who was watching the action in St. Thomas yesterday with Dale McMann, vice-president of the International Softball Federation. At least 30 players in the Pan Am program are playing among the 13 teams in the tourney here.

McMann said the Pan Am decision seems to be part of a trend.

"The large multi-sport games are starting to mirror the Olympic program," said McMann.

"Even the Canada Games are headed that way," said Quinn.

The Olympics do not include men's fastball and women's fastball has just been dropped.

Softball Canada's Pan Am program with 35 to 50 players in the program -- on the team and as a developmental group supporting it -- is a sizable portion of the total budget, Quinn said.

There's no appeal process with the Pan Am organization that he knows of, he said, and the 2007 host country, Brazil, is not expected to take up the cause because it has no men's fastball program. It does have a women's softball program.

Quinn said the response to the Pan Am organization's decision is to be proactive and perhaps create a Commonwealth Games-type program, where all fastball countries are involved as a replacement.

Bill Horne, coach of the host St. Thomas Evergreen Centennials team at the Canadians, said the Pan Am move takes away another incentive to play fastball, a sport that has seen lower numbers over the last decade.

His current team includes Pan Am outfielder Ryan Wolfe of London, catcher Sean O'Brien of Waterloo and catcher Craig Crawford of Waterloo, who was Canada's 2003 Pan Am captain.

"It's something for people to play the game for. For kids coming up," Horne said. "I think it's tragic. It'll affect the game. I'd like to see (fastball) in the Olympics and it'll never happen."

Dave Easter of Chatham, president of the Canadian In-line Hockey Association, said the decision was "not surprising but a disappointment."

"When you have South American countries voting on what sports should be there, what can you expect," said Easter. "They are trying to get out of team sports because it costs a lot of money."

He said he thought in-line might be retained in the 2007 Pan Ams because Brazil won bronze in the sport in 2003 in the Dominican Republic.

But what irks Easter is that his association spent $25,000 sending an in-line team to Argentina in the spring to qualify for the 2007 games. "We asked specifically if that meant in-line was going to stay," he said.

Though the COC says it fought for in-line and other dropped sports, Easter says there was "no one in our corner."

"Don't talk about podium level individuals and teams if you are not going to fund them," Easter said of the COC.


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