These days having a successful softball program often requires a strong feeder program at the younger ages, but the Michigan Outlaws, a travel softball program for girls ages 8-18 is about more than winning on the field.
Since it was reinstated in 2003, after a short hiatus, the Outlaws has helped to train and teach girls not only the fundamentals of the sport but discipline.
And all of the players have fun.
The Outlaws practice throughout the year, and the relationship with Lakeland head coach Joe Alsup allows them to use the high school facilities. Cold weather months can see various Outlaw teams using one of the two Lakeland gymnasiums where batting cages and fielding drills are set up.
The Outlaws also host tournaments throughout the year and frequently travel on the road during the summer months. Many of the teams also compete in the North Oakland Travel Softball League on weekdays in June and July.
“We want the girls to not only learn how to become better players but we want them to have fun,” said Alsup, who has seen many former Outlaws become star players at Lakeland and in colleges around the country. “Ideally we want to give these girls a chance to compete in high school at the varsity level no matter what school they may end up at.”
The Outlaws have two or three teams at several levels per age group ranging from 10 and under (10U) to 12U, 14U, 16U and sometimes 18U. Players typically come from communities such as Commerce, Waterford, White Lake, Hartland, Walled Lake, Milford and others. However, some players come from an hour or more away, traveling from communities like Clio and Southgate, said Outlaws President Bruce Johnson, a White Lake resident.
At most age levels the girls are expected to partake in winter indoor practices one to two hours, and an occasional scrimmage. That practice can include work hitting in the batting cages, defensive or pitching work and more.
“Around April 1 we try to get outside and either practice or play games at least two days a week until August 1,” Johnson said.
This year there are more than 120 girls in the program.
The Outlaws compete against many of the top travel softball teams in the state. Many of those programs will ask their players to commit almost exclusively to softball over all other sports, Johnson said, but the Outlaws want to leave options for their players.
“You get a team like Compuware and they are probably looking for more premium players than we have. Other teams may be picking the absolute elite player. We try to instill working on fundamentals with the girls and help them to have fun. You hate to tell a 12 or 15-year-old girl that she has to choose between volleyball and softball. We still win a lot of games and can compete at the top levels.”
The success of the Outlaws program has likely had an impact on the success of area programs like Lakeland, Walled Lake Northern, Hartland and the Waterford schools, Johnson said. But the quality of softball in Michigan has continued to improve as more travel clubs have been created and coaches have become more experienced.
“The sport is very popular and has been gaining momentum which is allowing for more opportunities for our players to attend college,” Johnson said.