The girls of summer have arrived in Aitkin with the inaugural season of Aitkin Youth Fastpitch (AYF). What started out two years ago in a local family’s backyard with eight girls has now grown into a fully developed organization.

The program starts with pre-K and kindergarten in the Big Dreamers level run by parents and coaches one night a week for four weeks to introduce the basics of softball and have fun with the kids. The “in-house” levels are for 8U, 10U and 12U. The 14U and 16U have travel teams. Each of these levels had tryouts for travel teams called the Flying Gobblers. All totaled, this developed into 150 girls playing on 16 different teams on four fields with 30 coaches.

The AYF mission statement is “to foster a love of the game, stress sportsmanship, teach fundamentals and encourage community involvement.”

At a recent tournament in Champlin for 8Us, 10Us and 12Us with 50 teams participating, the Flying Gobblers swept the sportsmanship awards and will receive free tickets to a Minnesota Twins game and participate in a pre-game parade at Target Field later this summer.

More than 120 volunteers and members of the AYF rebuilt two softball fields behind Rippleside Elementary in a seldom used area now referred to as the Roost. Two years of fundraising with an enormous amount of volunteer labor created ball fields to be proud of.

Help from outside the community was obtained after a three-month-long grant writing process when the Major League Baseball Players Association awarded AYF with a $24,000 grant from their Baseball Tomorrow fund. In order to use grant money for projects, the AYF took bids submitted by contractors itemizing the cost of projects. Those bids have been accepted.

One of the projects to create safer fields is to build new dugouts with protective fencing set away from the foul lines in a more traditional arrangement. Bleachers will be installed and plumbing was trenched in by volunteers from Larson Plumbing and Heating and Dutch’s Electric which will provide for field maintenance and drinking fountains at the two fields.

As the number of girls participating grew, so did the need for more team sponsorships to provide uniforms and equipment for the players. Aitkin businesses once again stepped up to support the Flying Gobblers. Season one is drawing to an end, but the excitement for season two has already begun.

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