By Nick Curcuru
---- — Gloucester head softball coach John Nicastro says it takes 15 players on the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams combined to field an ideal roster for the program. When the 2012 season concluded Gloucester had just 29 players on the three rosters combined and after a preliminary sign-up in February showed there wouldn’t be enough participants to fill a freshman team the program was forced to look to other avenues.
That avenue is allowing eighth grade girls to play on the freshman team. Gloucester High School applied for and was granted a waiver to allow eighth graders to participate last week. Half of the 12 school’s in the Northeastern Conference have a similar system. Eighth graders will only be able to compete on the freshman level.
“It’s good to take advantage of the waiver if it’s for the right reasons,” Nicastro said. “Some of the smaller schools in the conference need it because the numbers are small and it may not be for just softball, it could be for another sport too. The larger schools don’t need it but Gloucester definitely did. We needed to do something to combat our small numbers.”
While the softball program has an adequate number of participants in the freshman and sophomore class, it’s the small turnout from the junior and senior classes that led to the school applying for the waiver as just eight upperclassmen tried out.
A small amount of underclassmen creates a trickle down effect throughout the program. The lack of juniors and seniors means more sophomores and freshman will be called upon to play varsity ball and other freshman will have to play on the junior varsity team.
“The door is wide open for freshman to play on the junior varsity spot, some could even sneak into a varsity spot,” Nicastro said. “When you only win six games at the varsity level no spot is guaranteed. The door is wide open for everybody.”
Smaller schools throughout the area also allow eighth graders to play varsity sports. Fellow Cape Ann Schools Rockport and Manchester Essex allow eighth graders to play varsity as both schools have small enrollments and in both cases the middle school and high school reside in the same building.
Gloucester will not have eighth graders playing in varsity games.
Gloucester’s season begins on Wednesday, April 10 at home against Winthrop (4:30 p.m., Burnham’s Field).