By Rick Lefton, Director of Development, Mayerson JCC
Cincinnati loves Opening Day because we all love the Reds. I love Opening Day for those same reasons, but when that first game comes to an end, I’m thinking about another community: my own JCC ball-playing community. To me, Opening Day really marks the beginning of the softball season. While it’s the first game for the Cincinnati Reds, it also means the beginning of what most of us JCC ball players consider the best time of the year: JCC Men’s Softball League season.
Going strong since 1945, The JCC Softball League is the single longest continuously running program of the JCC. Nobody, including Ron Rose, a Mayerson JCC ballplayer of over 50 years can pinpoint how the league began, but we certainly know how important this league is to us.
The league is made up of 108 ballplayers: 9 teams with 12 players each. There’s nothing like it. Not just in the type of ball we play but in the community we’ve created. We play modified fast pitch softball. We can bunt, steal and play by baseball rules, but use a softball. (I’ll spare you the details on all the rules). We have two halves to the season, two family nights, a championship tournament, The Fred Raboff Memorial All Star Game and an awards banquet. Our league takes players starting at 16 years old and our oldest player is 84. To keep families together, we have an accommodation that allows immediate family members to play on a team together. There are several father/son combos and quite a few family groups. Last year on my team, I had 4 Leftons and 5 Wolfs!
Our age differences aren’t the only thing that makes us different than the other leagues in the area. With most ball leagues around town you sign up a team with your buddies who are all about the same level, then you find your spot in the league. We don’t do it like that. We defy normal in our league. Here, we have a draft – where Captains create their team through 12 rounds of selecting players. Every team is built the same with players of all abilities. Normally, a college level ball player wouldn’t choose to play with a novice Rabbi. The fact that these top-notch ball players accept and treat everyone as equal is really unique and fosters top notch sportsmanship. Each year of our 70 year tradition, our team is re-drafted and after a few years of playing April through September, you really get to know and connected to everyone.
We’re also unique in how we’re run. We have a volunteer board called the “Softball Commission” who works with our JCC Sports & Recreation Director, Mike Creemer (who also plays), to make it happen. The commission votes on the new Commissioner, a position similar to a board president, and the term usually lasts 2 to 3 years. In fact, a lot of guys have risen through the ranks of the Softball commission to the JCC board and have even become the JCC Board President!
As Opening Day gets closer and we all have ball teams on our mind, I hope we not only get to see the Reds bring in the first win, but that we are all reminded of how important sports and JCC sports are in creating connections and community.