Congressional Women's Softball Game rises in popularity

The ballgame was launched in 2010 to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition, supporting young adults battling breast cancer.
The winning team, the press, posing with the trophy from the game
Posted at 2:46 PM, Jun 27, 2024

“Beat cancer, beat Congress!” may be an unfamiliar chant to many, but it sounds like the press team’s version of “Play ball!” to the energetic crowd attending the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game on Wednesday night.

The 16th annual matchup between women in Congress and the D.C. press stepped to the plate in front of a packed crowd lining every inch of the fence at Watkins Recreation Center.

Wednesday’s game brought in over 4,000 people. The number is impressive, though small compared to the large-scale Washington National stadium where the annual Congressional Baseball Game took place a few weeks ago and broke their attendance record, selling over 20,000 tickets.

Not only is there a significant variation in ticket sales between the two congressional games, but a broad change in scenery. According to a game attendee, Jessey Opfer, the intimate setting Wednesday displayed a sense of community incomparable to other congressional baseball games.

“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come last year and why I’m here again,” Opfer said, “It’s just as fun as the baseball game. It’s less crowded and it's so fun to watch.”

Since launching the ballgame in 2010 to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition, supporting young adults battling breast cancer, the game formed an unfettered haven displaying female empowerment.

Opfer, a young woman herself, feels she can personally relate to this event.

“I think it's just more empowering to see, like the congresswomen playing in a more casual setting,” Opfer said. “And also the cause being breast cancer, it’s just a more personal cause to me. I honestly don’t know what the baseball game charities are.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz founded the summer-staple event after announcing her personal battle with breast cancer, igniting all the more reason for women to come together.

“The only way I thought about the men’s baseball game was that it was a tradition that pretty much excluded women, and we didn’t have a game focused on just the issues that mattered to us,” Wasserman Shultz said. “After going through breast cancer, I went to a colleague of mine and said ‘You know what, we should play on a bipartisan team.’”

Wasserman Schultz turned this idea into reality, affirming a double win by bringing awareness to breast cancer and providing an outlet to unite women who work on the Hill.

The Congressional Women's Softball Game.
The Congressional Women's Softball Game.

“Women are collegial — bring us together and do something for our Capitol Hill young women family,” Wasserman Schultz said. “That was so incredibly important, and so that’s how the tradition got started.”

Erica Hendry, a PBS Newshour employee playing on behalf of the press team, has played in the yearly softball game since 2017, and she is already looking forward to playing in next year’s matchup.

“It’s all for a good cause, but it's kind of about our deeper relationship on Capitol Hill,” Hendry said. “It’s just something that we can’t replicate any other way.”

The event raised a record high of over $670,000 for YSC this year, over $65,000 more than last year's donations. This year’s Congressional Baseball game also broke fundraising records of over $1.8 million towards local charities in the D.C. area.

The Congressional Baseball Game had over 100 years of history before the Congressional Women’s Softball Game was started, their rapid increase in popularity and funding for the women's game led to an MLB ballpark opportunity.

“We’ve been offered to play in that stadium,” Wasserman Shultz said, “They also charge way too much.”

Wassmerman Shultz wants to make sure that every penny donated goes towards the charity — to her, that’s the ultimate win.

“The men’s baseball game raised $2 million with almost 30,000 fans coming, we raised $675,000 on our little, little field. So I’d say, you know, proportionately we are doing well.”

Although the event plans to stick with the smaller-size field, Hendry says she believes this game deserves just as much attention as the Congressional Baseball Game for their high-pitched efforts.

“We’re women on the field and we’ve come a long way in sports. I think we deserve just as much recognition for all the hard work that we put in on and off the field," she said.

The press kept their winning streak alive, snatching a 9-4 victory, and look to find just as much success at home base in next year's annual matchup.