By Daniel Rocchi
On the opening weekend of their inaugural season, the new Ryerson women’s fastpitch team won two of their four games, and scored a third victory that was a year in the making.
“It’s not just something you’re waiting for to happen,” said catcher and outfielder Taylar Oats. “It’s a great feeling to actually be playing after working so hard for something and now it’s a reality: we got the Ryerson team going.”
Oats, a softball player since the age of five, spent the summer of 2015 playing with girls who were members of their school teams at Western and the University of Toronto. It disappointed Oats to hear about their experiences on those teams, knowing that Ryerson had no such team for her to join.
So she decided to start one.
After meeting with Ryerson’s athletics administration to gauge their interest in the formation of a fastpitch team, Oats approached Wayne Nishihama, her longtime rep team coach, about managing a Ryerson team. Nishihama, who graduated from Ryerson’s landscape architectural technology program in 1975, agreed and began to spread the word within the Toronto fastpitch community.
In September 2015, the team held its first meeting. Five players, including Oats, showed up.
It was clear that fielding a team for that season wasn’t feasible, so Nishihama, associate coach Mike Alexander and their five players devoted the year to recruiting and fundraising for the 2016 season.
Two fundraisers and one successful application for a Ryerson student initiative grant later, the team had raised just under $5,000.
Facebook networking, flyers on campus and word-of-mouth recruitment brought between a dozen and 15 potential players out to the team’s final meeting of the school year.
Ryerson approved the team’s application for official club status in March, around the same time that the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association accepted the Rams’ application to become the league’s 13th team.
With the team set to debut in the fall of 2016, the players spent the summer practising in Kerr Hall’s lower gym and outside in the quad.
They weren’t ideal practice facilities, but that’s the reality for many of Ryerson’s non-varsity sports teams.
The fastpitch team joins a host of other sports, including golf, curling, track and field and the men’s baseball team, that operate under club status and aren’t recognized varsity teams.
Official clubs have access to some Ryerson Athletics resources, such as promotion on official websites and permission to use the Ryerson Rams logo and branding.
But they receive no funding from the athletics department, and are not included in the apparel deal with Nike to supply varsity uniforms.
“Clubs are responsible for one hundred per cent of the operational needs of their program,” said Ivan Joseph, Ryerson’s director of athletics.
The fastpitch team arrives up to two hours early to their games to set up the field, while Nishihama has been using his connections with Toronto club teams to borrow bats, bases and other equipment. Each player also pays a $300 club fee for apparel and other expenses.
But they’re less concerned with the difficulties that new Ryerson clubs often face than they are with using their inaugural season to build towards a more prominent place within the school.
“One of the goals we had from the outset was to have a sustainable product,” said Nishihama. “Have the right coaching in to develop the team as a varsity team and hopefully it will eventually become a varsity team.”
Ryerson athletics will evaluating its clubs at the end of the year for prospective varsity promotions, but the fastpitch team will almost certainly be too young for consideration this time around.
A successful first season will go a long way towards future varsity eligibility, but for now, the focus is on the present, and forging a winning culture for the program.
“We want to have a competitive team,” said Nishihama. “We want to be respected.”