Big, brash, bold Texas Blaze takes top spot, just ahead of American Freedom
Understated typically isn’t an adjective associated with Texas.
Big, bold, brash – that’s the Texas we all know and love.
And sure enough, two of the best softball sites on the Sport Ngin platform have their roots in the Lone Star State. While the No. 1-ranked Texas Blaze site’s show-stopping design has all the pyrotechnics of a 1980s hair band concert, the No. 2 American Freedom site offers a red-white-and-blue, star-spangled salute to top-level fastpitch softball.
Both sites have substance to go with all that style. Few organizations promote their players better than the Blaze, who feature custom pages and skills videos for many of their players. American Freedom features a unique Freedom For Good program that connects its teams with local, regional and national charitable organizations.
The Pacific Northwest-based Fastpitch Northwest site and Sport Ngin newcomer Vista Girls Softball, based in San Diego’s northern suburbs, also cracked the Top 5. Rounding out the list was the information-rich Minnesota Amateur Softball Association site.
We graded more than a dozen of the top softball sites on the platform, assigning points in categories such as Design, Navigation, Content, Schedules and Results, History, Photos, Videos and more. The sites that rose to the top were the ones that coupled a clean, concise homepage design (making for a striking first impression) with the greatest depth and variety of content.
The non-profit organization was founded in 2003. Teams listed on the site range in age from 10-and-under up to 18-U. The Blaze’s stated mission, in short, is to be one of the premier girls’ fastpitch organizations in Texas and to compete on a national level. If the Blaze’s website is any indication of on-the-field competitiveness, then mission accomplished.
The Texas-styled design of the site -- big logos, bold colors, flames shooting out of bats and balls. Sometimes, so much design can be too much, but it all works together nicely here.
The top navigation is limited to a manageable seven categories, and three more sections of the site (Blaze Training, Player Videos and Blaze in Action) are
prominently displayed in call-to-action
graphics in the upper right section of the
Team pages didn’t reveal much in the way of past results or upcoming games.
Information about the organization and its goals is displayed prominently on the homepage. A Staff Directory page lists the Blaze’s executive and support teams and its coaches at the various age levels.
The Blaze’s 2014 high school graduating class had an organization-record 21 former players commit to colleges, including University of Texas freshman Alyssa Angel.
The Blaze have profile pages for most of their top players and dozens of outstanding videos that show each player’s set of skills. The ridiculously cool carousel on the homepage under the Current College Commitments banners auto plays graphics that show top players and where they are headed to play in college.
Location: McKinney, Texas
Webmaster: Tim Soefje
American Freedom was founded in 2006 as a single 12-and-under team. It has since expanded beyond the Dallas/Fort Worth area to include teams from Colorado, Oklahoma and the El Paso/New Mexico area. The organization’s mission statement, self-described as the ‘Freedom Way,’ in short is to be successful at the national level while remaining committed to its players.
The design. Another Texas-based site goes big and bold with its colors and graphics. The content is among the best in this category, too. The homepage news feed is updated regularly with articles and announcements.
Nine links in the top navigation might be too many, but the font size is small enough to help limit the congestion. The homepage also features a Quick Links section with 18
links to various sections on the site. The More
Headlines area on the homepage smartly uses
the Tab Element to allow viewers to toggle
between Headlines, Videos, Twitter and Facebook.
Information varied from team page to team page, but we didn’t see a lot in the way of past results or upcoming schedules.
The About Us page has a long explanation of its goals and origins, including metrics that back American Freedom’s goal of being recognized as one of the nation’s elite travel clubs. The Staff Directory page lists head coaches, assistant coaches and program directors for most of the organization’s teams.
The American Freedom Girls program connects the organization’s top teams with girls ages 6 to 12 who suffer from a serious illness, special needs or come from underprivileged families. American Freedom Girls often serve as bat girls during the AF Alumni Game and during other major events.
American Freedom lists its most recent college recruits on a Recent Verbals/Signees page. The AF Alumnae page shows, among other information, the high school graduation years and the positions of former players who have gone on to college.
Location: Centralia, Wash.
Webmaster: Lyle Overbay
Fastpitch Northwest, a subsidiary of Sports Capitol Northwest, connects top players in the Pacific Northwest with college programs. The organization’s mission statement is boiled down to this tagline: “Taking the game to the next level, one player at a time.”
The pages upon pages upon pages of quality content, starting with the hundreds of player profile pages built and updated by webmaster Lyle Overbay. Assistant director Tom Mauldin regularly contributes meaty news articles on player accomplishments, staff changes and upcoming events, only adding to the site’s stream of quality content.
The top navigation includes the handy page search feature. The right column on the homepage offers links to important email addresses, forms, coaching tips and upcoming events.
Pacific Northwest focuses more on its player profiles than team results. Information gathered at Player Evaluation Camps that appears on profile pages includes 20-yard dash and shuttle run times and vertical leap measurements.
The About US pages includes the organization’s mission statement and bios, with photos of director Ken Olson and Mauldin, a former player, coach and newspaper journalist.
Overbay, who played 14 seasons of Major League Baseball, batted .312 with 22 home runs, 46 doubles, 92 RBIs and 181 hits – all career highs – in 2006. He led the majors with 53 doubles in 2004.
The Colleges section lists all the colleges, ranging from NCAA Division I to community colleges, in the Pacific Northwest that have softball programs.
Vista is a northern suburb of San Diego, and the Vista Girls Softball teams play on Vista’s sprawling Buena Vista Ballfields as well as at fields in neighboring Oceanside, Carlsbad and San Marcos. The organization was founded in the late 1970s as a competitor to the established Bobby Sox national softball organization.
A manageable top navigation (limited to seven categories) is combined with links to more sections in the left column. It’s hard to miss the big Register Now button for winter ball.
The scrolling scoreboard at the top of the homepage shows upcoming games and past results, and schedules are loaded and results entered for all of the 2015 all-star teams.
The Our Heritage page houses the fascinating story, as recalled by Roy and Pam Schott, of why and how Vista Girls Softball was formed (displeasure over Bobby Sox rules and limitations).
Bobby Sox rules in the 1970s did not allow sliding or stealing of home.
The Snack Bar page (we don't see a lot of those) lays out the requirements for parent volunteers (work your required shifts or pay $50 per shift) as well as other guidelines and rules (umpires are allowed free water and volunteers are allowed free fountain drinks).
Location: Medina, Minn.
Webmaster: Dan Pfeffer
The organization bills itself as, “the premier adult and youth softball association in Minnesota since it was re-established in 2012.” Minnesota isn't just the State of Hockey: more than 40,000 players participate in Minnesota ASA-sanctioned associations each year. Minnesota ASA moved into its new office in Medina, a western Minneapolis suburb, in February.
For starters, the eye-catching design, the mix of informative, interesting content and the emphasis on schedules, scores and statistics.
There might be a couple too many options in the top navigation, although the categories don’t crowd each other. There are lots more page options in the upper left column on the homepage. Over in the upper right corner, just below the scrolling scoreboard, is a cool Quick Links dropdown that allows viewers to easily jump to the page of their choice.
Directors of leagues and tournaments that are part of Minnesota ASA have the ability to create team pages, enter rosters and scores, download schedules and track standings, among numerous other options. Several leagues from around the state have taken advantage of the functionality.
The Rules landing page gives detailed information about the origin and mission of the Amateur Softball Association, and there’s a Minnesota By-Laws section that has spells out everything from Mission to Eligibility to Disqualifications.
Minnesota has produced a series of outstanding pitchers, none more notable than Leroy Jolstad, who was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2008 and died in 2013. Jolstad, who stood 6-foot-5, pitched for more than 25 years at the Open level and racked up more than 750 wins while winning seven national championships.
Team ratings for various slowpitch divisions are voted on by viewers and released each month during the season.
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