The Pierson softball program was a beacon of success as recently as 2016, winning a county title that season, and having reached Regional Finals the year prior and state tournaments for consecutive years before that.
Since then, though, the program has been on a bit of a downturn that has culminated to the point where Pierson Athletic Director Eric Bramoff had to reevaluate it over the past year. After diligently processing the decision, Bramoff decided that, for the first time in quite some time — possibly ever — Pierson will not field a varsity softball team this spring.
Bramoff said the decision to drop the varsity softball team and go with just a junior varsity team this season was strictly due to numbers, which was determined after he had sent out a survey months ago to student-athletes gauging their interest in the sport.
What Bramoff found was that the majority of the girls who expressed interest in playing were underclassmen, so he wouldn’t necessarily be taking away a number of senior athlete’s final varsity seasons, which he said was important. Although seniors can play on a JV team, if they choose to, Bramoff said — football is the only sport that doesn’t allow seniors to play at the JV level. Those seniors who don’t choose to play on JV, Bramoff said, certainly have the options to play other sports, which a few of them have decided to do.
Sharon Truland and Kevin O’Halloran will continue to coach the JV team, Bramoff said. John “Woody” Kneeland will take the season off and return as varsity head coach next spring.
“Naturally, to build up a softball program, you drop down to JV, so we’ll do that this year and then we’ll reevaluate going into the next year,” Bramoff said. “The players will spend the year working on the fundamentals. Hopefully they’ll have have some success on JV and the plan is to keep that momentum going into next year with varsity.”
Bramoff explained that in such a small school district such as Pierson, these type of decisions have to be made on a year-to-year basis and are very much cyclical. There will be some years, he said, where Pierson can field its own girls soccer teams. Then there will be years, such as this past fall, where those girls join with East Hampton’s varsity to form a shared program. It just so happens, Bramoff said, that the same situation is occurring in softball now, where the majority of the would-be players don’t identify themselves as primary softball players.
“Do I think we could have had a varsity team this year? Yeah, probably,” he said. “But I think it’s important we just get the girls playing more than anything right now. We do have good interest in the middle school and in League Leagues. I think everyone understands the rationale behind it.”
Bramoff did say that if a softball program is to be sustainable at the varsity level, it needs to have at least one strong pitcher, which Pierson is no stranger to. Having the likes of someone like a Sam Duchemin, who graduated in 2015, among others, in the circle, is what helped propelled the Whalers to three consecutive appearances at state tournaments, from 2012 to 2014, and falling just short of a fourth in 2015.
“If we want to build a softball program that is sustainable, it all starts and ends with the pitching,” he said. “So the girls in the younger levels, they need to focus on the prerequisite skills that are needed to become a pitcher. And we’ve had some pretty legendary pitchers here in the Stafford sisters and Sam Duchemin, who I had the privilege of coaching her. When you get a dominate pitcher in softball it raises the game of everyone else. That allows everyone else to to have a relatively good feel for the game and it also leads to more girls coming out to play the game.”