Women-led grounds crew to make history at Little League Softball World Series

Courtesy of Sun Roesslein

When the TV cameras' bright lights were turned on this weekend at the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina, they were shining on more than the players.

For the first time in the event's 48-year history, a predominantly female grounds crew is preparing and taking care of the fields at Stallings Stadium. There are 16 women volunteering from around the country, joined by three other male volunteers. The women have worked just the final four days of the tournament -- starting Friday through Monday's championship games -- in part due to logistical issues and in part due to the exposure they'll receive when the tournament is broadcast on ESPN.

"I think it's really great for our industry on the whole," said Sun Roesslein, a stadium manager in Denver who helped organize the female volunteers at the LLSWS. "A lot of people don't realize how much work goes into preparing the fields -- that when they walk in the gate, everything's already done."

"So, hopefully, they'll get to see that this is a great career, in general, but especially for women," she added. "There's definitely an untapped labor resource there. There aren't very many women in the field, but there's absolutely no reason that there shouldn't be a lot more."

Little League, as an organization, has been "extremely focused" on women's empowerment, said Ashlea Nash, Little League's director of softball development. Nash wasn't part of the initial conversations about building a volunteer army of female groundskeepers, but once she was looped in, she was enthusiastic about the idea. When she started telling other people throughout the softball world, they shared her anticipation.

"We're excited for the girls on the field to see that and they can look up to that, in hopes that they can take away from this experience a new career path, if that's what they choose to do," Nash said.

Chris Ball, a volunteer who lives in Charleston, S.C., and has also played on the field at Stallings Stadium, is the person who organizes the grounds crew. He wants the number of women in field turf management to keep increasing, saying, "We will grow it eventually."

So when Ball was approached by Roesslein in January, he was all ears. Roesslein, who is the president-elect of the Sports Field Management Association, then sent out an email blast to female members of the SFMA. Thirteen women quickly volunteered, and three more joined the group in the past few weeks.

That the numbers got so high wasn't a given; Roesslein's pool of potential volunteers wasn't flush. Of the 2,200 or so members of the SFMA, she said only about 4% -- about 88 total -- are women.

The group of women working this week's events include a high school senior, a grad student at Texas A&M and the head groundskeepers for the Reno Aces and Columbia Fireflies, as well as women who work for companies within the turf management industry. Their experience ranges from newbies to those who have worked in the industry for 30 years. The latter group includes Amy Fouty, who is a field consultant for a field construction company.

"This is incredible," Fouty said. "This is an incredible opportunity to bring a group of women together. ... It's just so cool. Like in my lifetime, I was never sure that I would have an opportunity like this."

This week, Fouty and the 15 other women have helped give the players, who are ages 10 to 12, the "major league treatment," as Ball put it, on the field at Stallings Stadium.

They are painting foul lines, getting the mound ready and doing a midgame drag around the infield -- just like grounds crews do in the big leagues. They are cleaning up fields after the games and preparing them for the next contest. By the end of the day, they'll have worked 10 games in four days -- four on Friday and then two each on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

One of Roesslein's goals is to see more women on grounds crews across more sports and events, a trend already taking place in golf. The past two U.S. Women's Opens have had about 30 women volunteers as part of their grounds crews.

This weekend in Greenville, on national TV, has been the next opportunity for an industry to show it's growing.

"We need more women in the sports turf world because our labor force is really, really shallow right now," Ball said. "And what a better setting than the Little League Softball World Series to get [16] professionals in our industry together? To show these kids that this is an option for a career down the road."