Typically, when a longtime college professor has written books about the environment, an indie rock band and masculinity, a narrative about DI college softball isn’t the next step. For Mark Allister, an english, environmental studies and American studies professor at St. Olaf College Minnesota, it was.
Allister published “Women’s College Softball On the Rise: A Season Inside the Game” in March 2019 and has since found a few opportunities to speak at colleges about his work and the topic at hand. One of his recent stops was Charlotte on Oct. 14, 2019 after communicating with Jananka Lewis, the director of the women’s and gender studies program.
While on its face, the transition for the professor in his 34th year doesn’t seem logical, it wasn’t that far of a stretch.
“Some people (professors) like to specialize and keep learning deeper and deeper and deeper. I am the opposite of that,” said Allister. “I’ve used my teaching as a method to learn things. I get interested in a subject and think ‘oh, I’d like to teach something about that,” so I can learn a lot more. Sports and gender is just my latest endeavour.”
The book was written about the 2018 D1 college softball season and in order to really get exposure and find opportunities to dive into this new topic, Allister wrote for Fastpitch News over the course of season. An athlete growing up, Allister really didn’t know much of sports beyond the world of men’s sports.
“That was all I knew, because there was really just no coverage of women’s sports, aside from maybe the Olympics. I got a little bit disenchanted with men’s sports because of various academic scandals and things like that and then kind of discovered women’s sports,” said Allister.
Softball in particular though, Allister does have a connection to. Jessica Lynne Allister, Mark’s niece, is in her third season as the softball head coach at Stanford and was the head coach at Minnesota from 2011 to 2017 where she helped to turn around a program. Jessica was an All-American player in her college playing career at Stanford and also previously served as an assistant coach at Georgia (2005-2006), Stanford (2007-2009) and Oregon (2010). With another niece who also played college softball at Missouri, Mark never saw either of them play and to this day can’t believe he didn’t make it to any games.
“I never knew what softball was like. So, Jessica’s first year, I went to a game and kind of liked it and then went to a few more her second year and then I just started liking it a lot,” said Allister. “I just loved the culture of it, the vibe of it. I liked watching the players, it was so much fun to be there. And then I started just admiring the tremendous athleticism.”
With a career that is largely academic, Allister wanted this book to be different and wrote it as more of a narrative.
“I didn’t want to write an academic book. The mode is sort of that you advance a position or an argument and then you try to prove it. I just don’t want to be doing that much anymore, I wanted to tell a story,” said Allister. “I talk about Title IX, a lot of cultural issues and female athlete’s performing gender and what that might mean and I go into issues about media coverage.”
Allister hopes to educate younger people who approach the book about what has had to happen in softball for them to have what they have now such as facilities, opportunities, etc. He discusses the SEC tournament he attended, new stadiums involved and the millions of dollars that go into things like a brand new stadium for top tier softball programs. Also touched on in the book is how the softball calendar affects different programs such as teams that play in colder settings and can’t always hit their fields as soon as other teams and how players often have to adjust to that. The narrative covers a wide range of softball conversation from the improvement of the stadiums to particular players and teams.
Allister previously attended St. Cloud State in Minnesota to give a presentation in regard to his book and the following day of his talk at Charlotte, went to South Carolina to speak there as well.
“This is lovely for me, it couldn’t have worked out better. Sometimes when you do a book that doesn’t quite fit a niche, people aren’t going to necessarily have you come and do something with that,” said Allister. “My dream would actually be that there’s a wide variety of people in the room to hear these talks, if I do any more of these. I think that’s what the book can potentially do, is bring people together around this topic that normally might not be in the room together and get them thinking.”