The WPSL has announced that it will cancel its regular-season play in 2001 as part of an effort to relaunch the league into six markets in 2002 and 12 markets by 2004.

The league still will have a presence in 2001 since it plans to field two WPSL teams that will participate in a nationwide "Tour of Fastpitch Champions" that will barnstorm 12 to 14 cities from June through August. The WPSL Gold Team will feature Sydney 2000 Olympians from the U.S. and international teams, and the other WPSL team will be an all-star team comprised of a selection of WPSL league-wide talent.

"I think this is the start of a bright new day for women's professional fastpitch softball," said WPSL CEO/Commissioner John Carroll. "We're turning the corner on things that were wrong and establishing a game plan for the future. We now have a plan to get it right."

The WPSL's expansion plan takes into consideration the need to reshape the league to accommodate the addition of new strategic partners vital to future growth and success, stated a position paper released by the league. Each market will be locally owned and operated by individuals or groups of individuals who will also own an equity stake in a league association which will determine the rules of play, establish player salaries, draft players, enforce the rules and manage the other administrative aspects of the league.

Currently the league is in talks with strategic partners and individuals in markets in which it hopes to have a presence. And, while that work is being done to relaunch the league in 2002, WPSL Director of Game Operations Hildred Deese is developing the tour schedule for this summer. Besides playing head-to-head, the two WPSL teams also will compete against international teams and the newly formed USA national teams. Tentatively, Japan, China, Australia and Canada are on the slate of competitors.

The tour in 2001 will include stops in the existing WPSL markets -- Akron, Ohio, and Plant City, Florida -- and approximately 11 other sites. A tentative schedule is listed below; negotiations are underway to hold spring training at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. The WPSL also will maintain a full schedule of televised games in support of the tour on ESPN and ESPN2, including two live telecasts.

The downside of the effort to relaunch is the layoff of team staffs and players for the 2001 season. The Akron, Ohio, and Plant City, Florida, staffs have been let go, except for the general managers and most of the coaches.

"There are a lot of disappointed players and fans right now, but we feel confident we will be back in those markets in the future," said Carroll. "We will be using 30 players this year and dropping 45. However, next year we'll have 90 players, and when we expand to 12 teams, we'll have 180 players." The 30 players for 2001 should be announced within the next two months.

Akron General Manager Joey Arrietta and Plant City General Manager Tom Lindemuth will be working to find local owner/operators in their respective markets. Ohio Pride coach Judy Martino will be head coach of the WPSL Gold Team; her assistant coach Margaret Sutter will join her. New Akron Racers Coach Tim Kiernan will be the head coach of the WPSL All-Star Team, and Tampa Bay Firestix Coach Linda Derk will become the league's director of camps and clinics. The only WPSL head coach not currently employed by the league is the 2000 league champion Florida Wahoos' coach Cindy Bristow, who recently took a job with the International Softball Federation. According to Carroll, all personnel laid off received severance packages, based on their years of service.

The WPSL, known then as Women's Pro Fastpitch, began competition in 1995 with a 16-city tour. The first league games took place in 1997, with the Orlando Wahoos winning the inaugural league title out of six teams. On December 5, 1998, the WPF changed its name to the Women's Pro Softball League (WPSL), and in October of 1999, the league went to four teams in two markets.


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