WUSA teaches girls about having fun and power of teamwork

When the West University Softball Assocation started out in 1971, it was  a fledgling group of girls organized by parents to provide a little fun on Sunday afternoons. Now, almost 44 years later, the group has grown to 600 girls and may well be the largest league in the state, said Michael McConn, WUSA  president. 

McConn is also vice president of sales for IBC Insurance and has two daughters, ages 11 and eight years old. Both are currently playing softball competitively, and as their father, he understands the importance of girls’ sports. 
 
“I think it is important to distinguish girls’ sports from boys’ sports and give girls their own environment to have fun in,” he said. “Girls learn and interact differently than boys. Boys have to win to have fun. Our motto is ‘Girls must have fun to win.’”
 
McConn said a past WUSA‚Äąpresident once told him that the most satisfying part of working with the league (for him) was merely the opportunity to spend quality time with his daughter during the formative years of her life, coaching her and watching her grow.
One of the key pieces of wisdom handed down through the league’s leadership ranks is that players can be “all athlete and all girl” at the same time. 
 
The West U league is a diamond in the rough, McConn added, and has been averaging a 10 percent increase in enrollment every year. After three years of existing informally, the management of the league was taken over in 1974 by the City of West University’s Recreational Department, which formalized schedules and divisions. There were 93 players at that time.
 
A year later, the league obtained its first dedicated field, and in 1976, the first West U all-star tournament team competed in games outside of the neighborhood. The league continued to grow in membership and recognition, and by 1982, sponsor donations had exceeded the city’s funding of its annual budget. 
 
By 1989, the WUSA was a leader in the fight to have girls’ softball recognized and sanctioned as a high school sport. 
 
In 2003, the league joined with West University’s and Braes Bayou’s Little Leagues and West University’s soccer leagues to form the West U Area Sports Association — in order to own and operate dedicated sports fields on Stella Link. 
 
The WUSA has an active volunteer auxiliary of parents who help organize and sponsor fund-raising activities, such as an opening day carnival and social gala for adults. 
 
The 2015 season is launched in mid-February with a parade, and each team plays 12 regular season games, followed by league tournaments, which begin April 30.
 
“There aren’t very many leagues like ours that are in the center of a major metropolitan area. We take girls from all over Houston. Girls don’t have to live in West U or Braes Heights to come play for West U. The kids can live in Pearland or Sugarland or The Woodlands,” McConn said. “Emotionally and socially, it plays a significant role. It’s a melting pot. It enables the girls to make friends beyond the school friends they see every day.”
 
He continued, “The common denominator of this league –– whether you are coming from River Oaks or somewhere else in Houston –– is that you’re all out there for one reason, which is to play softball.” 
 
WUSA’s website includes a page showing that 31 of its players have advanced to play collegiate softball in schools like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Stanford, the University of Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M. One of the Episcopal High School’s current assistant softball coaches came out of the West U system, McConn said, adding that many young women come back to help with WUSA’s softball camps and fundraisers.
 
“You a see a lot more women coaching in our league than in other girls’ sports,” McConn said. Moms are encouraged to participate as coaches, not merely providing snacks and cheering on their daughters.
 
Rachel Steely, an attorney specializing in employment law, has been coaching teams in the WUSA for five years now, including with all-star teams. 
 
In her youth, Steely spent 10 years playing in Pasadena leagues, mostly playing third base. All three of her daughters have embraced softball through WUSA, she said. The girls learn valuable lessons and develop skills that can be used throughout their lives by playing softball, she added. 
 
“Not only do the girls develop confidence, but they also learn to make and develop new relationships outside their comfort zone,” she said. They also learn the lesson of teamwork.
 
“They learn to contribute in the role they’re given,” she said. “Everyone wants to be in the top role, but everybody needs to learn to do their best and contribute in the position they're assigned.
 
“They learn that, if they put their minds to it, they can accomplish things and have fun doing it.”
 
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