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Unidentified girls’ baseball team in the stands, 1922 (PF77)
by
Rebecca Shaw - Summer Student Archival Assistant

Play Ball! All about the First Women’s Baseball League in Owen Sound.

Rebecca Shaw - Summer Student Archival Assistant

For over one hundred years, summer and baseball have gone hand and hand in Grey County, with the first men’s baseball league organised by E.W. Bishop, circa 1882, in Owen Sound [1]. However, a Sun-Times article subtitled “Crowd of Fully 4,000 People Watched Five-Inning Argument” (22 July 1922), was not for a men’s baseball game, but for the finals of a women’s baseball tournament [2]. A week later, the city finals for the ladies’ baseball league drew another crowd of over a thousand people to McLauchlan’s Field, where most of their games were held [3]. (Other locales included Victoria Park and St. George’s Park [4]).

The Owen Sound ladies’ baseball league, organised by a teacher, Mary Miller, and sponsored by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), started in June 1922 and was one of the first of such groups in Ontario. Others on the committee—in charge of arranging games, playing fields, and umpires—included Doris Spragge (also a teacher) and M. Helen Straith [5]. As several newspaper articles attest, it was extremely successful: “Those who were responsible for the organization of the ladies league had no idea that it would grow to such proportions or create the enthusiasms that it did” [6]. In its first year, eight separate teams participated, with various sponsors: Keenans, Sun-Times, Owen Sound North, Chair Factory (N.A.B.C.), L.R. Steele Ltd., Victoria School, and Owen Sound Collegiate Institute (O.S.C.I.). The Collegiate team won both the city championship (27 July 1922) and the Buy-in-Owen Sound Carnival Committee tournament (21 July 1922). Once the summer season was over, they moved indoors, holding games at the Riverside Arena.

The league ran for several years. Most of the players were in their late teens or early twenties, sporting midis and pleated bloomers in the 1920s and rugger shirts, high wool stockings, and smaller velveteen bloomers in the 1930s. Only the first baseman and catcher had gloves. As Leone (Keeling) Clark recalled, “We didn’t know the difference, but some of the balls then had a large out-seam and it really smarted sometimes when you caught them” [7].

By 1925, most churches were entering teams, including St. George’s (managed by Doris Spragge and coached by Harold Plante), who won the tournament that year. Mary Miller, along with Jack Hall, managed the Church of Christ Disciples team, coached by Alice Knowles, and other teams included those sponsored by McLauchlan’s, Metal Workers, and J. Harrison [8]. At the first girls’ softball banquet in November 1929, three players who had started in 1922 were now the stars of new teams: Alfreda McGill of the old O.S.C.I. team was captain of the Wawanekas; Leone Keeling, a former member of the Victoria School team, was also on the Wawanekas; and, Wilda Plante (sister to Harold Plante), a former O.S.C.I. team member, led the Lady Greys [9]. As other communities created ladies’ baseball leagues, the Owen Sound teams began to travel farther afield and establish their reputation elsewhere. In 1929, the Wawanekas (coached by Bill Ray and managed by Charlie Robinson) even made it to the All-Ontario finals in the Ontario Women’s Softball Association intermediate division. [10]

 

Wawanekas Baseball Club (1928-1930)

Wawanekas Baseball Club (1928–1930): (seated, left to right) Pep Arkles, Elsie McIntyre, Freda Whinfield, Doreen Trout, Lil Edgar (Dunbar); (standing, left to right) Ruby Nichol, Wilda Plante (Waugh), Bertha Coture, Bill Garbutt, Jean McDonald, Rosina Hawksford. (1988.007.058)

  1. Melba Morris Croft, Fourth Entrance to Huronia (Owen Sound, 1980), 167.
  2. “O.S.C.I. Girls’ Big First Inning Beat Victoria in Finals,” in Owen Sound Daily Sun-Times (22 July 1922). [PF77]
  3. “Collegiate Girls Won City Title in Girls’ Baseball,” in Owen Sound Daily Sun-Times (28 July 1922). [PF77]
  4. Official Score Book for Owen Sound Ladies’ Baseball League, 13 June 1922–19 October 1922. [PF77]
  5. Letter from donor, M. Helen Straith. [PF77]
  6. “Collegiate Girls Won City Title in Girls’ Baseball,” in Owen Sound Daily Sun-Times (28 July 1922). [PF77]
  7. Ted Briggs, “Wawanekas were once the toast of the town,” Owen Sound Sun Times (19 October 1992).
  8. Melba Morris Croft, Renewal of a Canadian Port (Owen Sound, 1993), 82, 326.
  9. The Lady Greys broke away from the Wawanekas in 1928 to form their own team because “there were too many good players for one team.” “Girls’ Softball Organized Here Ten Years Ago,” in Owen Sound Sun-Times (6 November 1929) and Ellen Hay, “Ladies’ softball heydays recalled,” in Owen Sound Sun-Times (18 July 1988).
  10. Paul White, “Wawanekas walloped foes,” in Owen Sound Sun Times (16 November 1996).

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