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Softball – sailing in the right direction again…
Rebirth of the USSSA softball program in Rhode Island
By John Cardullo
There’s a new/old giant that has re-awoken and definitely making an impact on the Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts Softball Scene.
As rapper Eminem once said in his rap/song Without Me, “Look who’s back, back again, Brian’s back tell your friends…” – well actually the original verse was about Shady, but my apologies to ol’ Em for this week’s article. Our subject is that one time USSSA softball Director Brian Cipolla has returned!
In the late 1980’s the USSSA softball program was booming in other areas of the country, but not so much in Rhode Island. William Langlois the director at the time was happily running his program on the East Bay side of the state and was content not to make waves and go up against the stronger and bigger ASA program. For Bill that all changed in 1992 when ASA State Commissioner A. Joseph Mattera suddenly passed away. In a series of events that nobody saw coming, the USSSA program found its way into the heart of ASA territory, landing in Providence and Warwick. For the next couple of years, the ASA and USSSA battled head to head in the Western part of the state. A few years later when the dust settled, ASA retook the West and the South while USSSA returned to the East and made its way North, but the genie was out of the bottle and players realized that they had a choice and with some creative scheduling they could play every weekend alternating ASA one weekend and USSSA the other.
For a few years teams took advantage of this situation and the numbers were strong for each affiliation. Then it happened, Bill Langlois announced that he was retiring from his job as director of the USSSA program and moving. This opened up a scramble for the position, after a couple of one-and-done directors. In 2001 the USSSA named Brian Cipolla as the new State Director and that is where things took off!
In his first year Cipolla inherited a Men’s program with just 77 teams registered to play USSSA. Anyone in the softball circle who knew Brian, knew that he was very competitive in everything that he did, whether it was having his team play at the local level or on the National stage, winning was the only thing in his sight. It was said that he even hated to lose a game of jacks to his daughter. Now being the director of USSSA in Rhode Island, he hit the ground running, setting up an aggressive weekly tournament schedule aiming to get as many teams playing USSSA softball as possible on a regular basis, moving the program from the East Bay to all of Rhode Island, which he did landing leagues in Johnston, Pawtucket, Westerly, Coventry and he managed to get weekends for his tournaments in Warwick (which was now playing NSA- which is a whole other story for another time). For several years softball again seemed to be settling down. The affiliations stopped combatting each other and the teams continued to thrive having a buffet of softball in front of them, ISA, ASA, NSA and USSSA. USSSA had grown to control slow pitch and majority of the State.
But as the song went in American Pie and my apologies to Don McLean, “and while the king was looking down the jester stole his thorny crown,” Cipolla (a USSSA Hall of Fame Regional member) was suddenly out, leaving the program that he built from 77 teams to having 360 active teams regularly registered and playing USSSA softball. His best season was 2010 when he registered a whopping 455 and had 22 tournaments. A new director came in and it didn’t take very long and only 2 seasons under the new Director for the USSSA program to dissolve to a point that the program was on a life support.
So, reading the writing on the wall the regional USSSA powers to be, to realize that they made a huge mistake. They lost longtime leagues, the participation in tournaments dropped to all-time lows, and the USSSA was under attack by USA/ASA softball that was being headed up ironically by Brian Cipolla, and by the new softball organization Freedom Softball which held the center of the state in Warwick, RI. The USSSA program was in big trouble in the area, and the powers to be only can see one solution to make one last grasp to save their program – bring Brian Cipolla back!
The 2019 season will be known as the rebirth of the USSSA program in Rhode Island. Cipolla hit the ground running. Calling on old friends and new to spread the word that he intends to bring back the program in a big way, but this time around instead of trying to roll over the affiliations and start a territorial war, Cipolla extended olive branches to State Commissioners and State Directors imploring them to consider joint registration, “by doing this everyone wins” Cipolla said, “the teams have the final say but to offer them a registration rate to play in all of the affiliations everyone wins. The affiliation gets larger participation in their weekend tournaments, the directors get more teams registered and the teams can play virtually every day of the week from April to November”. Cipolla goes on to say “is it going to come out of the gate with all sunshine and lollypops”? No, will there be stepping on toes initially, “yes”. But if we can be patient and try to work with each other everyone wins!”
Cipolla is in a much different place than last time when he felt that he needed to be number one across the board, he credits his family and close friends to his newfound mellowness. But make no mistake the competitiveness is still there under surface and could emerge at a moment notice. “My agenda isn’t quite the same as it was the first time around, but the underlining goals are still there. They are to expose teams to the USSSA program, to expand the USSSA program and to offer every team playing, Mens, Womens and Co-Ed a choice to play where they want and with who they want.” Cipolla concluded. By the recent Women’s and Men’s State All Star games went and the home run derby exposition that was held on the Firecracker weekend showed Cipolla has the ship upright and sailing along in a positive direction.