Season start for softball’s swinging sprites

Apr 30, 2024

For the McNeil family, being a part of the Dartmouth Girls Athletic League’s softball program is basically a rite of passage. 

And with the start of DGAL’s new season on Sunday, April 28 and its third year with a program for kids 6 and under, the family was able to welcome in their youngest member. 

Kenna McNeil, 6, has some big cleats to fill on the new DGAL team, with her mom and older sister having been former program members and her father having helped coach. 

But for Kenna, that just means she’ll be getting mentorship from both “sissy and daddy” — and Softball Commissioner Brian Thomas gets a thumbs up too.

Nora McNeil, 11, said although she is no longer participating in the softball program, she believes her sister is “going to really like it.”

The girls’ mother, Shannon McNeil, said, “I played in DGAL when I was 10 years old. To see how much they’ve grown and how much they do for the girls now — the time, the effort, the sports they’ve added that are more accessible now than they were when I was child — is amazing.”

Shannon added she is especially excited about the additional program for girls 6 and younger.

“To expose girls starting at 5 and 6 years old is just setting them up for a lifetime of loving the sport,” she said.

Scott McNeil said, “They learn to love it. At this age, they have fun.”

Unlike the McNeils, the Harrison family is fairly new to DGAL.

“This is literally our first day,” Nicole Harrison said after the games on Sunday. 

Her daughter Layla, 6, will be joining Kenna this season. 

Nicole said, “I love that the parents have stepped up to help out and I think it’s going to be a great organization [to be a part of].”

Layla said she had a “good” time out on the field and enjoyed hitting the most. However, she said she still needs to work on her catching. 

Not to worry, Layla — the DGAL softball season has only just begun.

Softball Commissioner Brian Thomas said Sunday’s games were the organization's “biggest turnout” since he’s been a part of the league. 

Thomas said when he and Ryan Rymszewicz began as commissioners, the program had 90 girls — that number has now almost doubled and sits at 171 among all the age groups.

He credits part of this achievement to the creation of the 6 and under program.

“Since we've been doing that, the numbers continue to grow,” he added.

Thomas said the hope is to keep the girls invested in the sport so that when they reach high school age, they can join the school’s team. 

This year, Dartmouth High School had to put waivers out for eighth graders to join, he said. “I'd say within the next two years that won't be the case because there's a lot of girls that are pretty good players now at the 12- to 13-year-old level.”

Thomas highlighted his appreciation for all of his volunteer coaches. 

“I think that a lot of people don't realize how much work it takes to volunteer your time,” he said. “Some of these coaches are here three, four days a week and we can't run a league without them.”

DGAL softball’s annual Summer Blast will take place over the July 12 weekend. This event is a decade-old tradition that invites 24 softball teams from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York for a series of games in Dartmouth. This is DGAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year, according to Thomas.

Thomas said his goals for this season are to “just to have the girls continue to develop and make our program stronger and hopefully even bigger next year.”