Two elite female Hawke's Bay players will be in a team of 11 senior men's softball teams competing for the renamed ISA New Zealand Classic, formally called the North Island Classic, in Hastings from tonight.
White Sox pitcher Rita Hokianga and fellow New Zealand women's senior softball representative catcher, Melanie Gettins, will add to the arsenal of the Flaxmere team and break from more than two decades of tradition in the tourney.
Craig Waterhouse, the Central Vikings Softball Association president organising the tourney, said last night he had heard some comments that "this is taking women's rights too far" in what is believed to be the country's first gender bender.
However, Waterhouse said they were absolutely convinced the position taken was beneficial to the development of the female players and helping the White Sox programme, not to mention the spin-off for Hawke's Bay.
"It is our tournament so we make up our own rules. The White Sox ladies play locally in the senior men's competition so we are allowing them to play," he said, mindful teams who lose to Flaxmere would perhaps not want to carry the stigma of having lost to a team fielding two females.
The pair had competed at an elite level of softball in the United States where they had secured university sport scholarships.
"I've never been to a softball park where they have seven diamonds and all of them had lights on them," said Waterhouse who saw Hokianga play for her university side.
He said the women played in the Bay senior men's club competition last year but would not be able to emulate that elsewhere in an open men's competition except for the White Sox who were granted dispensation, for example to compete in the NZ U19 men's tourney in Hastings last year.
Hokianga, who was practising against the Saints last night, will pitch from the women's distance.
The Classic this weekend is touted as the country's biggest provincial open men's softball tourney outside of national events organised by Softball New Zealand.
Fastpitch, Pumas and Saints (all of HB), ELE Miramar, Johnsonville, Watyll Porirua, Poneke Kilbirnie (all of Wellington), and the Cardinals and Hutt City United, both of Hutt Valley, as well as SNZ Juniors (NZ U19s) are the other teams in the three-day tourney to be staged at Akina Park.
Cardinals, Poneke Kilbirnie and Miramar have dominated the national softballing landscape for many years .
Visiting teams will not lack Bay flavour with former representatives in their ranks.
Josh Pettit, Black Sox No 1 pitcher from the winning world series team in July, will be rolling his arm for Johnsonville.
Waterhouse said Miramar would have to be the favourites, with the addition this year of former Junior Black Sox captain Dante Matakatea.
Matakatea is the grandson of Tom Makea snr. The Makeas are the royal family of softball in the Bay.
Matakatea's Miramar are runners-up in the Wellington club championship table.
Former Bay player Jordan Waterhouse pitches for Miramar who boast 13 players who have travelled abroad as part of the ISA New Zealand academy programme.
Poneke Kilbirnie have Bay players — Callum Carson, Rongo Rapea, Ruben Paraha and Horowai Puketapu — who have represented the Junior Black Sox. Former Fastpitch plater Max Debrett coaches PK.
Some players are in contention for national representative honours at the 12th Junior Men's World Championship in Prince Albert, Canada.
Head coach and New Zealand softball legend Thomas Makea Jnr has selected a team of 14 who will sport the fern at the classic.
"This will be the third time that the Junior Black Sox have entered a team in the tournament and each tournament they have proven to be competitive against top men's club sides in the North Island," said Waterhouse.
Tourney directors have also approved eligible pick-up players.
Bay teams will play from 6pm today to start the tourney before the travelling sides join the fray from tomorrow in 8.30am starts with the last game finishing about 7pm tomorrow.