Student-Run Softball Made for Super Memories
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I went to Ann Arbor Huron High
School, considered by every objective source to be the greatest high
school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made
it so great when I was there was an intramural softball league.
Maybe your clearly inferior
high school had one, too. But the IM softball league at Huron
was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less.
That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.
So the burn-outs got the park
permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, from the
guys in auto shop to marching band. They gave their teams names
like the Extra Burly Studs, the Master Batters and – yes – the ‘Nads.
If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.
My buddies and I failed to
get a team together our junior year, but our senior year, we found inspiration.
Most of my friends weren’t playing spring sports, so we came home
every day after school to catch "Leave It To Beaver" re-runs
on channel 20 – on something called UHF. (Kids, go ask Grandpa.)
Come softball season, we were
moved to build a team around that very name: The Cleavers. But if we
were going to face battle-tested squads like the All-Star Rogues and
the Ghetto Tigers, we knew we’d need an edgier name. And that’s
when we came up with – yes – the Almighty Cleavers.
You know, to instill fear in our opponents.
You can imagine how well that
Our next stroke of genius was
our uniform: we each got one of our dads’ undershirts, then used a
laundry marker to write one of the characters’ names on the back:
Ward, Wally, Eddie – we had ‘em all. Now all we needed were
ten more players.
No problem. Once word
got out about our hardcore name and unis, people flocked to our team,
even a half-dozen women. None of the other teams were co-ed, but there
was no rule against it – because there were almost no rules.
That’s what you get when you play in a league founded by burnouts.
We didn’t just expect to
lose. We were built to lose. But we didn’t care.
In fact, that was our team motto: “We Don’t Care.” Whenever somebody
was seen running too hard or – god forbid – sliding into home plate,
we started our chant: “We Don’t Care! We Don’t Care!”
The girls could play wherever
they wanted, and nobody was allowed to yell at anyone, no matter how
badly they screwed up.
It probably helped that, like
most teams, we brought cooling beverages to each game, be they “jumbos”
of Goebel’s. “torpedoes” of Colt 45 or, for big games, an actual
quarter barrel of Stroh’s Bohemian Style. We’d set it up right
at the corner of Huron Parkway and Fuller, with Lord knows how many
teachers, parents and police officers driving by. No one cared.
Yes, I know we were being stupid
and illegal, but you have to remember this was at a time when Huron
had a smoking lounge for students, Ann Arbor had a five-dollar pot law,
and the Almighty Cleavers were probably on the conservative side of
things. Okay, on a very relative scale. And all of it might
explain why I can’t recall a single fight among the twelve tribes
that played. (Take that any way you want.)
But what I saw next defied
explanation: Against a bunch of guys who clearly wanted to beat us,
our coed squad won the game. And then, another. And another.
It was incredible. Once the
girls realized they weren’t going to get yelled at, their Inner Softball
Players came out – and before we knew it, we finished the regular
season at 9-2, in second place.
Well, our magical season had
to come to an end, and it did – with a playoff loss to the always-tough
Junior Junkies. Even more heartbreaking, actor Hugh Beaumont, who played
Ward Cleaver, died the week before, prompting all of us to draw black
armbands on our sacred jerseys.
But then, something even stranger
happened. The mother of one of our founders happened to be the president
of the American Psychiatric Association, so reporters were always calling
her up to get her expert opinion on this or that. When an Associated
Press reporter asked her about violence on television, she finally said,
“Well, it can’t be that bad. My son watches ‘Leave
it to Beaver’ every day with his buddies.’”
It just so happened the reporter
was a big “Leave it to Beaver” fan, and voila! All of a sudden our
team was on the AP wire, in the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press
and featured in TV Guide, for crying out loud.
My grandparents, in from Eastern
Canada, must have been completely confused – or simply assumed all
American teenagers appear in national stories for playing IM softball
as a rite of passage before graduating. But the unexpected attention
wasn’t the point.
I don’t know if I’ve ever
had more fun playing anything than I did playing intramural softball
that spring. No parents, no umpires, no rules except most runs wins
– and win or lose, get over it. “No One Cares!”
It was low-rent, small stakes,
and big, big fun – because it was ours.
I don’t think kids today
have any idea what that feels like.
Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon
Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon