The Chicago National Tournament in 1933 also advanced the sport. At this competition, the male and female champions were honored equally. The International Softball World Championships in 1965 developed women's softball by making it an international game, a step towards the Pan-American Games and the Olympics. Eleven years later, women softball players were given the closest equivalent to Major League Baseball with the 1976 formation of the International Women's Professional Softball League. Player contracts ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 per year, but the league disbanded in 1980 because of financial ruin.
The popularity of women's fastpitch softball has grown steadily since the professional league's end in 1980. In fact, once again, there is another professional fastpitch league. In 1982, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began holding women's softball championships. This championship tournament is now called the Softball World Series. UCLA has dominated the competition and won the title 11 times. Softball is one of only 2 sports in the NCAA exclusive to women -- the other is Field Hockey. More than 25 million people in the United States of all age groups now actively play the game.
In 1996, women's fastpitch softball reached the pinnacle of sports when it became an Olympic medal event. The US women's team has won all three softball gold medals awarded in the sport. The strength of the US team reflects the popularity of fastpitch softball among women in the United States. The Amateur Softball Association of America reports that it "annually registers over 260,000 teams combining to form a membership of more than 4.5 million". These numbers do not all apply to fastpitch, yet it is consistently growing along with slowpitch.
More than 40 million adults and youngsters play annually in the United States some form of competitive and recreational softball and the majority of them play Amateur Softball Association softball. Softball is the largest team participation sport in the U.S.A. Because of its popularity many associations have been created to organize the sport over the past 25 years: the American Fastpitch Association (AFA), National Softball Association (NSA), the Independent Softball Association (ISA), and Pony League Baseball and Softball to name a few.
One of the most important events in softball history occurred when the ASA sent the Connecticut Brakettes of Stratford, Connecticut to compete in ISF Women’s World championship in 1965. The Brakettes were the ASA's first women’s softball team and they finished the competition with a record of 8–3 and a silver medal. After the championship, the Brakettes traveled to many locations around the world to serve as ambassadors for the sport. During the trip, the coaches and players held softball clinics to give a diverse group of people a better understanding of softball.
As the worldwide participation in softball continued to grow, the sport was eventually included in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games at Atlanta, Georgia. The ASA responded by developing a coaching pool consisting of the best coaches in the country along with a selection committee which would recruit the most talented US softball players. The selection committee was responsible for making the final cuts to decide which players would compete for the US team at all international competitions throughout the year. The strategy was successful as the United States won their first olympic gold medal in softball against China with a 3–0 win. This success was followed by two more olympic gold medals and seven world Championships.
The number of Division I softball teams in the US has grown from 222 in 1997 to 277 in 2007. The number of youth teams also increased from 73,567 in 1995 to 86,049 in 2007.
In July 2005, IOC members voted 52–52 (with one abstention), to remove softball (along with baseball) from the Olympic program after the 2008 Olympic Games. Softball and baseball needed a majority vote to stay. The two sports were the first to be cut since polo in 1936. One of the reasons softball was considered for elimination from the Olympics was because there was not enough global participation and not enough depth of talent worldwide to merit Olympic status. In the three Summer Olympics which included a softball competition, four countries won medals: the United States, Australia, China and Japan.
In response to the expressed concern that there was not enough talent depth worldwide, the ISF began to introduce the game in places where softball is not traditionally played. For example, the US team donated equipment and hosted coaching clinics in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The US team's Jessica Mendoza has also delivered equipment and conducted clinics in other countries such as Brazil, the Czech Republic and South Africa.
After softball's elimination from 2012 Olympics became a possibility, the ASA created the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City in 2005. This event allows the top countries in the world to compete on a yearly basis. The 2005 World Cup of Softball drew over 18,000 fans around the world for a competition between the top five international softball teams.
The World Cup of Softball
was later established as one of the premier events for the sport of softball.
At the second World Cup of Softball, the attendance record was broken and
the television ratings were higher than in any previous US Softball event
on ESPN and ESPN2. The US team expressed hope that the increasing
popularity of this event will allow the sport to return to the Summer Olympic