2022 CT Wiffs Review: League Evaluations
In the CT Wiffs Review was first created in 2021, the goal of the rankings was to encourage the growth and development of backyard-level Wiffle®Ball in the State of Connecticut. This "growth and development" aspect applies to many things: the crop of player talent largely unheard of outside of individual leagues, the teams that played through a variety of season formats and conditions, and - above all else - the backyard leagues themselves. It is with these leagues that youth interest in Wiffle®Ball largely exists. Without them, the vast exposure and interest for the future of sport would cease to exist.
So, with all that is owed in gratitude to these leagues, I felt it would be fitting to assess their performance as an organization over the past year. This review is less concerned with the pure player/team talent available to each league. That ranking is what has already been discussed across the Top 25 Players, Top 15 Teams, "All-State" Teams, and more. What is more important in these evaluations is the growth and structure of each league. Did the league have a solid and exciting season that was completed from start to finish? How engaged were teams and players across the league's season? How well did the league manage their social media platforms? How good is the talent of players and teams as a whole? These factors and more were the basis for each league's assessment, which hopefully - as you will find in reading this - provides meaningful feedback that will help these leagues grow and expand into 2023 and beyond.
Now, here are the league evaluations for 2022, presented BEAUTIFULLY in alphabetical order...
Darien Wiffle Ball League
2022 Rating: C-
Location: Darien, CT
Number of Teams: 10 (Expanded to 14 Teams Mid-Season)
Number of Players: 120
Top 25 Players: 8
Top 15 Teams: 4
High player talent level from the league's best players
Expansion into neighboring towns
High-quality media content on Instagram, YouTube
Season not completed (regular season shortened, no postseason)
Imbalanced pitching rules
Very inconsistent social media updates
Coming off of the thrills of the 2021 season, the Darien Wiffle Ball League looked to continue to cement itself as the standard for backyard Wiffle®Ball. With a solid YouTube presence that had over three seasons of content and a player group that included some of the best young players in the State, it really seemed like league commissioner Braden Schenck could do no wrong. When I spoke with him in a March 2022 recording for the Scuffin' It Up podcast (if you have not listened to the show yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Check it out HERE, it's the second episode of the first season), Schenck and his staff really seemed committed to the growth of the sport by any means. Whether it be through bringing in non-Darien natives to join, or by integrating the league through school clubs and organizations, the DWBL wanted to be a catalyst for the growth of the sport by any means necessary.
As it would play out in 2022, however, that "any means necessary" approach seemed to be the main culprit for the league's downfall. Not more than a third of the way through the season, the DWBL decided to allow four teams to join the league mid-season. While this inclusion seemed good at first, the additions made the league's logistics very difficult. League executives cited how difficult it was to schedule series now with teams playing on completely different timetables, let alone the league now having fourteen teams. With so many games going on from the moment the season started in May, Schenck and his crew struggled to get content out without avoiding long delays in production. Combining this with the lack of media content being posted along with the season and the lack of stats being recorded by the league - some teams did not even report them to the league - following the season's progress became extremely difficult. Much like this paragraph's structure, the production of the DWBL's 2022 season was a runaway train of messes that, while recognized to be too much for them to handle, it was recognized far too late to rectify.
Barely able to keep the season moving, the league found itself in problems on the field. Surprisingly, the issue stemmed with one of the league's best features: its large list of high-talent players and teams. Beginning with the 2022-expansion Black Bears and spreading among a group of teams, players became increasingly annoyed with the league's lack of pitching speed limit rules. With many of the expansion teams not having the talent to compete with the DWBL's elite, some midfield and "bottom-half" teams (for lack of a better word) felt that the competitive gap between themselves and top players prevented them from standing a legitimate chance for not only competing for wins, but for having any enjoyment while playing regardless of the outcome. The imbalance was so disliked that the aforementioned Black Bears posted an online petition on Change.org that asked the league to make immediate changes to enact a speed limit. When it comes to this competitive balance issue in backyard-level leagues, I personally believe there should be a difference between an inexperienced rookie player and an ace like Sam Donnelly or Gordon Washburn (a pair of players who continued to dominate in 2022). That being said, not giving all players some reasonable shot at standing a chance in a non-fully-competitive league like the DWBL is a risky endeavor. An endeavor that, with the overall player talent the league has, can and did discourage a sizable group players from wanting to continue playing in the league. As a result of these issues - including the aforementioned logistics issues with the teams and league - the league's regular season was halted in early June and entered into a hiatus, one that it would never return out of.
Looking back at the season's events, it is obvious that the Darien Wiffle Ball League really took on too much more than it could realistically handle. The 2022 season for Connecticut's top backyard league felt like a big "what if": had they managed to successfully take on the large project they brought upon themselves, the DWBL could have been well set for a long, sustainable future. Instead, the league took steps backwards to the point where its future operation is in critical jeopardy. With the league now set for what will be its fifth and final season in 2023, I can hope that things can end with a bang of joy like the past, rather than a long, painful whimper like the season that just went by. For a league with as good of a run as theirs, it seems fair to suggest that the DWBL and its community deserves better.
Griswold Wiffleball League
2022 Rating: C+
Location: Griswold, CT
Number of Teams: 4
Number of Players: 20
Top 25 Players: 5