HURON — So, what do you do to recognize someone who has been involved in every level of a sport, for more than 30 years?
In the case of Thez Langbehn, her dedication to women in sports — in general — and softball specifically, it led to her induction into the USA South Dakota Softball Hall of Fame Oct. 13 in Sioux Falls.
Langbehn’s induction was in recognition of her involvement in softball in the state, from player, to coach, to Junior Olympic Commissioner for both Fastpitch and Slowpitch, and serving as the president of the JO Slowpitch organization for 23 years.
“I have been very fortunate to be able to participate in this game at every level in South Dakota,” Langbehn said.
Langbehn was born and raised in Huron, graduating from Huron High School and Huron College. After teaching for a year, and a three-year stint in the Army, she began working in recreation in Auburn, Ala. Three and a half years later, she returned to Huron and began a 35-year career with the Huron Park and Recreation department, retiring last year.
“At that time there were some girls’ sports as part of the summer recreation program,” she said, “although the number of high school sports was growing.”
She became the area Junior Commissioner for Fastpitch softball in 1982 and after a year in that position, she took the same position for Slowpitch, a seat she maintained for 10 years, when she became the President of JO Slowpitch, which she held through 2017. She was also a member of SD USA’s Executive Board from 1992 to 2015.
Over the time of her involvement in softball in the state, she has seen the growth of the sport on many levels. During her tenure with the city Parks and Rec Dept., she would often be in the lead to bid on bringing state softball tournaments to Huron. It is due in a large part to Langbehn’s involvement that there is almost always at least one — and sometimes several — state softball tournament that come to Huron each summer. “Having a state tournament in town is always a benefit to the city,” she said.
She was involved in the expansion of the softball facilities of Kunhart Field into Mountain Dew Fields, which doubled the playing fields available.
“I still like to go and watch the games and I still am involved in bidding on the state tournaments,” Langbehn said. “I have so many friends with whom I played and have worked that it’s a nice reunion when I see them again.”
Unfortunately, she added, the number of participants in women’s slowpitch softball has fallen off in the past few years, not only here, but nationwide. “I attribute it to the growing popularity of women’s fastpitch,” she said. “I think that it started when women’s slowpitch started in the Olympics. Slowpitch is falling off, but fastpitch is on the rise.”
Women’s fastpitch softball is contested at many colleges, and the high school softball played in South Dakota — mostly by Sioux Falls-area schools — is fastpitch.
“Team sports participation — volleyball and basketball come to mind — are on the decline,” she said. “Individual sports are on the rise right now, but in my experience things tend to come full circle. At some time it will all come back.”
For Langbehn, it is the second recognition by the state softball association. In 1987, she was the first person presented with the organization’s Distinguished Service Award.