Sunday, August 2, 2015

Where Has Kenosha Softball Gone?

The other day on Facebook, my friend, Mary Uhlich, asked me why I thought softball wasn't as popular now in Kenosha as it once was. I thought about it for a bit and couldn’t really put my finger on it. However, I did recall this “My Turn” column that I wrote a couple of years ago. Maybe it will shed some light on the subject.

City League

Back in 1976, I managed the Sands softball team in the Continental league of the Department of Recreation of Kenosha Unified School District No. 1. A rather verbose title, don’t you think? That’s why it was more commonly referred to as “City” league.

During the 1980s, the Golden Age of Kenosha softball, the City league was active Monday through Friday. Men and women played 12”, 14” and 16” games at Lincoln 1 and 2, Red Arrow, Roosevelt, Petretti, Poerio, Petzke, Columbus and both Anderson diamonds.

With eight teams in a league and up to eight diamonds being used on a given night, there were enough spots for over 250 teams. With more than 170 of those spots being relegated for men’s 12” slow-pitch teams, you would think that there would be no problem getting your team into a league.

Well, you would be wrong.

Despite all of that availability, getting your team registered to play City league softball was a crapshoot. Spots were at a premium and there was no guarantee that your team was going to get one. The archaic system that the Recreation Department used to register teams in those days made things quite challenging.

Even if your team had played the previous season, it was first-come first-served each year. Your team might have been playing for ten straight years - your spot was still up for grabs, it didn’t matter.

The way you made sure your team got a coveted spot was to arrive at the Recreation Department bright and early the day registration opened. I had better clarify that. While It behooved you to get there early, there was no way it was going to be bright. Not at 2:00 a.m. in late February.

Looking back, I still remember standing in that small parking lot located at 2717 67th Street on those dark, bone-chilling winter mornings, freezing off my considerable backside. Joining me in this harebrained endeavor were numerous fellow softball zealots, all hoping to secure a treasured spot in one of Kenosha's City leagues.

We would stand in line, shuffling from one foot to the other, pretending not to be cold. We made small talk as we tried to figure how many teams were ahead of us. But mostly we were just shivering and feeling extremely miserable.

Around 7:30 a.m., the doors to the Rec Department would open and over 150 of us would appreciatively scramble to get into the warm building. Then we would wait some more. Depending on your place in line, you might not get to register your team until after 11 o'clock. But it was well worth it if you were able to acquire that seemingly priceless spot for your team.

If it’s any consolation, the Recreation Department finally changed their antiquated registration system, adapting a method that yours truly proposed. Rather than doing the first-come first-served routine, teams that played the year before had a designated date when they could register. After that, any openings that resulted from teams not returning were made available using the old process.

Ironically, while the Recreation Department had ultimately pulled their head out of the sand and updated their system, it no longer really matters. Along with the Golden Age of Kenosha softball, the demand for a spot to play is long gone.

A phone call to the Recreation Department reinforced this. I was informed that there are only 44 teams playing this year, thirty of which are men’s teams. The two Lincoln diamonds are the only parks used, with no games on Wednesdays.

When I mentioned to the person giving me the information that in the ‘80s there were over 250 teams registered, she responded, “There wasn’t a Rec Plex back then.” I told her maybe not, but there was the Bullpen, Bat ‘n’ Brew, Finney’s West, Furlan’s Dugout, Hooker Lake Inn, Louie’s Waterhole and Shane Rawley’s. She replied, “Oh. Well, then you have your information.”

Yes indeed, I had my information and it proved the ardent desire for Kenosha City league softball no longer exists. Too bad I am no longer managing a team. It would be so much easier to register my team over at 2717 67th Street. I wouldn’t even have to freeze off my considerable backside.

Until next time…from the booth.

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