After eight weeks of intense playing at various reservations, Inter Tribal Sports co-ed softball teams made their way to the Soboba Indian Reservation for the championship tournament on Saturday, May 13.
Three age divisions were represented by the A-, B- and C-Leagues. Five teams made up the A-League for 18 and under: Pala, Pauma, Pechanga, San Jacinto (Torres Martinez Tribal T.A.N.F. members) and Soboba. The seven teams in the B-League for 14-U were Cahuilla, Morongo, Pala, Pechanga, San Jacinto, Santa Ysabel and Viejas. Eleven teams of players aged 11-U comprised the C-League; they were Barona, Cahuilla, Morongo, Pala, Pauma, Pechanga, San Jacinto, San Pasqual, Santa Ysabel, Soboba and Viejas.
Bracket play began at 10 a.m. on two fields at the Soboba Sports Complex and four fields at The Oaks, where all the C-League games were played. After all the balls were pitched and hit and all the runs were scored, Pechanga swept all three leagues to take home the winning trophies.
Inter Tribal Sports Inc. Executive Director Isaiah Thompson said there were 524 athletes taking part in the eight-week co-ed softball season this year. He said Soboba offers the most fields to accommodate numerous teams playing at once.
“Historically, we’ve always had our championships at Soboba,” he said. “The tournament was great as it allowed our athletes a place to compete with their Tribe while also celebrating the end of the season.”
Each game was scheduled for 60 minutes, with no new inning allowed to begin past the 50-minute mark. The first game of the entire day matched Pala with San Jacinto which Pala went on to win and move ahead in the A-League bracket to compete against Pechanga at 11:15 a.m. Pechanga then moved ahead to the final game of the day against Pauma, held at 12:45 p.m. at the Sports Complex’s Field 1.
In B-League action, Pechanga beat Santa Ysabel to advance to a final game against Morongo at 3:15 p.m. Pechanga’s C-League team beat San Jacinto, then Pala and then Santa Ysabel to end the day with a win against San Pasqual for the final game that began at 3:15 p.m.
Gary Jordan, coach for the San Jacinto team, said it was a fun day that gave his players another experience and some good outdoor exercise. Players had the opportunity to rotate through positions to find ones they liked best. Pitcher Richard Peralta, 17, said he just got back into playing softball this year and was enjoying it.
“I like how everyone works together and encourages each other by saying positive things about their play,” Richard said.
Pala’s Raul Martinez, 14, who took his turn at pitching, has been with the ITS program for a while. He pitched several strikes as well as getting runners out at first base with his targeted throwing skills. His mother, Jennifer Trujillo, said she likes the way Inter Tribal Sports is structured.
“I like how they take care of the kids and just let them play,” she said. “They get to know other people from other reservations and learn new skills. It’s nice to see so many of these kids growing up and how they’ve changed and matured over the years.”
Antonia Briones-Venegas was in the stands at Field 2 of the Sports Complex to watch her 14-year-old son Kevin play for the Soboba team. He’s been playing ITS sports since he was six and got in some great hits as well as catches when balls were sent flying to left field by the opposing Pauma team.
“I like that ITS offers sports year-round and all different sports,” Antonia said. “Kevin likes that they added golf. He gets to meet kids from other reservations and they like co-ed because they can play with their girl cousins.”
Coach Mike Durrett led his Soboba team in some great softball action against the undefeated Pauma team, who ended up winning by one point at the end of the time limit.
Pauma Coach Jolene Majel said her team is made up of “just really great players; all can hit, all can field and they play really well together.” She said ITS is very family-oriented and most of these athletes have grown up together and playing sports together is a good way for all the kids to gel together.
Along with enforcing the regular rules of the game, ITS umpires kept players in check regarding ITS-specific rules regarding respect and decorum on the field. They also provided positive reinforcements to youths who made an effort to help other players, even those on opposing teams.
Head umpire Ryan Liebengood has been with ITS for 10 years, so he’s known many of the kids in the program almost their entire lives. He said the program is great for kids to have fun playing recreational sports. “They need this in the worst way, especially on the reservations,” he said. “This program has changed a lot of kids’ lives in positive ways. And we have love for these kids – we want to be here. We encourage relationships as well as bond with them ourselves.”
Noah Malina of Temecula is another umpire who has been with ITS for about four years. “I like the competitiveness the sports offer these kids. They get to try everything,” he said. “It’s where fun begins.”
Inter Tribal Sports is a nonprofit organization that started with flag football in 2002 and quickly expanded to add other sports. Currently, basketball (whose signups are closing soon) is the most popular sport with softball a close second.
For more information, www.intertribalsports.org.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians