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JCC to celebrate 32 years of softball and friendship
This weekend softball players of all ages will descend on Mercer Island for a softball reunion celebrating the Stroum Jewish Community Center’s league.
One of the longest running coed softball leagues in the state, the JCC league has facilitated games for the last 32 years. This year, to celebrate the history, the JCC is working with the Washington State Jewish Historical Society to put together the reunion.
On Sunday, July 22, at 11:30 a.m. at the South Mercer Playfields, players from any of the league’s past teams are invited to attend. This weekend will include the championships for this year’s league.
The league features teams of seven men and three women, who play in a variety of leagues within the overall group, ranging from competitive to friendly.
Matt Grogan, who used to run the league for the JCC, said he expects at least a few hundred people to attend the event, out of the 2,500 to 5,000 people who have played over the years.
The league started in the mid-1980s, originally playing games in the Seattle area, on Capitol Hill before the JCC took over the program in 1984.
“Before the SJCC was involved, it was Stuart Willner who started the league as an outreach program for Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue located in Seward Park,” wrote a longtime captain of the league in a short history of the group. “One clearly stated purpose for starting the league was to provide a family-oriented ‘safe’ social venue for young people in the Jewish community. Players could meet others on their own teams, of course, but many of the single players used the league as a vehicle for meeting players on other teams. This is one of those instances when you can say that softball was more than just softball. The league played a crucial role in fostering lifelong friendships between strangers who became teammates, as well as countless marriages and children. Because of these connections, the league helped create a stronger Jewish community.”
In 1984 Willner was looking for a new home for the league, and the JCC stepped in. Grogan, who still works at the JCC, took on the project without countless volunteers.
“It’s terrific partnership between the JCC and leaders, as well as phenomenal volunteers,” said Grogan.
Over the years, various specialized league rules have been adopted and changed, as well as teams with special stories.
The games moved between several fields before coming to play on Mercer Island. They played at Miller Field and then Genesee Field, but it was quickly discovered that Genesee wasn’t the best fit. Several car prowls and a stolen vehicle led to the league posting a guard in the lot during games. Not long afterward, the league began playing at the South Mercer Playfields.
Some teams have come and gone in the league, but others have stayed remarkably the same.
“One of the founding teams, Congregation Beth Shalom, is still led by its original captain, Stan Sorscher,” the written history of the league says. “Ron Pergamit, former league committee chairman, is another player from the inaugural season who still plays today.”
The first ever league championships were Temple De Hirsch and All-City Jewish Singles. During the fourth year of the league, the two teams played each other in the championship, with a tied score at the bottom of the seventh inning.
“A ground ball was hit to the pitcher, and the batter froze in the batter’s box,” says the league’s history. “The result was a double play, sending the game into extra innings. The ACJS coach, frustrated by the play, slammed the ball into the ground, which drew an unexpected ejection. With this change in momentum, TDH went on to a 14-12 victory.”
Since then, the league has seen many successful teams, with the Grizwalds, the team formerly known as the All-City Jewish Singles, winning four championships and playing in eight title games.
Islander Carla Barokas has played with the JCC league for the last 21 years. Barokas played on the team, sponsored by Rainier Moving Systems, which started in 2005, with Islanders Jamie Koehler Kezner and Jason Koehler.
“I really enjoy playing in the A league because it is a high level of competition without the pressure or attitude that can come with more competitive leagues,” said Barokas. “You get to know almost everyone else in the league. They are friendly and celebrate good competition. The team I’m on now has three sets of brothers on it. In the past there have been married couples, of people who end up getting married later. Their family members come to cheer you on and you feel as though you are part of the extended family.”
Throughout her years playing in the league, the only time she didn’t was when she was pregnant with her son, of course the year her team played and lost the title, but she still went and cheered on her team.
“My daughters and I still went to watch and cheer the team on,” she said. “There were many friendly ribs about timing pregnancies accordingly for the good of the team.”
This Sunday the league plans to celebrate all of that history, and introduce and new generation to the league.
The festivities will last from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. with a free hot dog lunch, bouncy house and games for kids. A home run derby will be set up for adults. Organizers are also encouraging former players to dig out old jerseys to see who can find the oldest. The plan is to hang them on the fence to create a display.
To learn more or to see pictures of past teams, visit the JCC’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sjccseattle/events.