Latest Issue

Humble Beginnings

Traced initially to the 14th century, the old proverb states, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

As the undefeated South Little League girls softball team continues to harvest victories on their historic march to the Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon it’s a pretty good bet that no one associated with the team has any idea of those ‘small acorns’ planted 42 years ago that provided the very foundation that today stands as a most sturdy softball program.

Those seeds of softball interest in the South Williamsport community were planted a bit from self-interest as a group of mothers having young daughters interested in playing the game. Softball was first chartered nationally by Little League Baseball, Inc. in 1974 following a lawsuit brought against the organization that up until that point had restricted participation only to boys.

The following year, LLB had banned foreign teams from participating in the annual World Series. That 1975 tournament consisted of the four regional United States champions in both baseball and softball. The seeds of interest had been planted, and interest in Little League softball began to grow.

In the fall of 1976 a group of South Williamsport women spearheaded by Joan Eastlake, Donna Stutz, Cathy Finnerty, and Jean Lowery began discussions to form a softball league in the Borough. Initial conversations with Little Mountaineer Little League leadership proved unsuccessful as the league’s only field, Lions Field, was heavily used leaving no time for softball play.

Determined to proceed, the group contacted officials at Little League Baseball Headquarters seeking permission to use fields on the Little League complex. That request was granted, and the league opened its inaugural season playing games on what was known at the time as fields 5 & 6 bordering East Mountain Avenue at the bottom of Little League’s complex.

With a place to play uniforms, equipment and sponsors had to be obtained in a relatively short time span. Once again, LLB Headquarters provided additional support. The uniforms for that first Softball World Series in 1975 were no longer being used, and an agreement was reached to outfit the newborn league in those colorful former World Series uniforms.

Sponsorship came relatively quickly, and the first four teams were formed. The teams and their managers included; Bicycle Center, Carol Stackhouse & Sandy Walters (Blue); Clements Photography, Joey Rake & Cheryl Stiber; (Orange), Flook’s Meat Market, Donna Stutz & Cathy Finnerty; (Red) and Roto-Rooter, Jean Lowery & Marcia Campbell (Green) became the founding sponsors for the new league. Mary Ann Churba served as the league’s first softball vice-president.

Volunteers came forward. Tasks were assigned and completed. The league’s ‘concession stand’ consisted of folding tables pulled from the trunks of cars on game nights. ‘Menus’ consisted of whatever baked goods or store-bought items mothers could provide. There was no electricity, scoreboard or public address system, but it didn’t matter — the South Side girls now had a league of their own.

Softball interested youngsters were quick to respond, and the league’s first player draft resulted in a most interesting dynamic. Following the end of the first half of league play, all four teams were tied for first place with identical .500 percentages won/lost records. As the second half unfolded, Roto-Rooter pulled away from the pack and was crowned the first softball champions in Little Mountaineer Little League history.

That development created some long-talked-about history in the Lowery household as Roto-Rooter’s team manager Jean was selected to coach the league’s first All-Star team. Their opponent in what then was a single-elimination District tournament was the Old Lycoming League, clearly the area’s most dominant softball program. No ‘mercy rule’ existed then with the scoreboard posting a final score of Old Lycoming 26, Little Mountaineer 0. It was an unmerciful defeat, but the new league had completed its very first season. The lopsided loss did nothing to deter the league growth that would soon follow.

Just as today’s softball program knows nothing of what transpired in 1977, those early softball pioneers, now grandparents and beyond, had no vision of young girls playing for a World Championship. But some of them were there cheering on these newly crowned victors as they triumphantly rode thru the streets of the community after winning the Eastern Regional championship.

For many of today’s young people, history is not their favorite school subject. Knowing what took place in 1977 won’t make them better players, but an understanding of how the softball they now enjoy sprouted from those humble beginnings may plant some seeds as to how they might help future softball-playing youngsters who may someday look back on this 2019 team as ‘ancient history.’

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *