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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 01 2010

Softball on the rise after North Dakota sanctions it

High school fastpitch softball in North Dakota has evolved from the days when Kayla Frappier played for Fargo Shanley.

“I remember my senior year telling people that we were going to the state tournament and everyone got all excited,” said Frappier, in her first year as head coach at Devils Lake.

“And I said, ‘No, no, there are only six teams in the state. Everybody goes.’ ”

Fastpitch softball was a club sport when Frappier, 23, played for the Deacons from 2002-05.

Now, there are 15 varsity teams in the state that are divided into three regions. Eight teams make the state tournament, which starts Thursday in Minot. The North Dakota High School Activities Association first sanctioned the sport last season.

“Now you have to prove yourself during the season, which obviously takes it to that next level,” Frappier said. “It’s getting much more competitive and it’s at a completely different level than it was back when was I was playing.”

Frappier has led Devils Lake (9-10) to the second seed from Region 1.

The Firebirds play 12-time defending state champion West Fargo at noon Thursday in the first round. The Packers (24-2) being a dominant team is one thing that hasn’t changed since Frappier played.

In his 17th season as head coach, West Fargo’s Pat Johnson has enjoyed watching the sport evolve in recent years.

“It’s nice to see that there is more opportunity out there,” he said. “It’s just nice to see it grow. It’s just nice to see that we started something with three teams. From three teams, we now have statewide competition.”

Johnson said West Fargo, Fargo North and Fargo South were the first three schools to field club teams before Shanley was added in the second year. Grand Forks Central and Grand Forks Red River were next to start teams.

Those were the six teams in the state when Frappier played.

Mike Bisenius has been Red River’s head coach the past five seasons. He has coached softball in North Dakota for nine seasons, including three as head coach at Central prior to moving to Red River.

“It’s slowly been growing, and that’s a good thing,” said Bisenius, whose team is 15-6 this season.

“Talent-wise, the girls are catching on better. It’s been a great experience.”

The number of teams should grow in the next few years. Turtle Mountain, Hankinson and Dakota Prairie fielded teams this season, but played mostly, if not entirely, against junior varsity teams.

Those teams could be added to the varsity mix next season. Johnson said Bismarck is splitting into two teams next spring.

Jamestown, Carrington, Harvey and Rugby have also shown interest in starting teams, according to Bisenius and Johnson.

West Fargo has one loss against a North Dakota team this season, losing to Bismarck.

Frappier thinks having a strong program like West Fargo has helped raise the level of play throughout the state.

“It’s nice to have them,” Frappier said. “They’ve never, I don’t think, leveled off. They’ve continued to produce strong, fundamentally sound teams, and they’ll probably always have that target on their back. They’re continuing to get better and all the other teams in the state are continuing to get better.

“Everybody has kind of followed suit.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.