The fun girls of summer
l Lakettes softball team will join together one more time
A reunion for the Lake Oswego Lakettes softball team?
What a great idea! And its going to happen on Sept. 9 when the players, families and Gene Bevel the man who founded the team, gather at George Rogers Park, where they had played so many games.
This is all happening because of a Lakettes batgirl. Stephanie Heisler only played one game for the team, making her the Lakette version of Moonlight Graham. But, like any Lakette, she is able to overcome great odds to accomplish great things.
My sister Lynn had promised Velda Bevel (wife of Gene Bevel) that there would be a Lakette reunion, but Velda died of cancer before it could happen, Heisler says. Recently, I went to a University of Oregon reunion and met Kim Knox. She wanted to do it. I went from there.
I wanted to make that promise happen. I want to make this something really special.
Heisler has not stinted in any effort to bring about this reunion, searching far and wide for anyone who played for the Lakettes, and she has ignited enthusiasm for it in players who havent seen each other in 30 or 35 years. Thirty former Lakettes have said they are coming, and it is easy to see from their emails to Heisler that team spirit still runs high.
Gene Bevel certainly has it. He started the team back in 1970, because he had three daughters who were excellent athletes, and they werent getting any chances to play.
I wasnt a really good coach, says the modest Bevel.
But without Gene Bevel there would have been no Lakettes.
I could hustle up the funds, he admits, and he also was an enormous source of support for the girls.
When the girls needed sympathy Bevel, was there, and he kept the club well supplied with laughs with his jaunty sense of humor, which he retains today at age 88.
In fact, Bevel and statistician/coach Everette Smail are the main reasons for the reunion. The other Lakette coaches like Bill Heisler (Stephanie and Lynns father) and Irv Hefford have passed on. The advanced age of Bevel and Smail was a big motivation for Heisler to get the ball rolling.
Gene was so generous with his time, Heisler says. At the end of each tournament, he would pass out trophies, and he would always have something funny to say about each player. Gene kept things light and fun.
Why are the Lakettes a team worth celebrating?
For one thing, they won a lot of games. They started out as the greenest softball team around, but they grew and improved until they were one of the powerhouse teams in the state, winning state and regional championships and earning two trips to the national tournament.
We grew up together, and developed into confident women because of our softball experiences, catcher Cec Ward says. We were so young and small in comparison to the teams we played in those first few years. We lost to the more-experienced teams at first. But we got better and better and became the best team in the state and the region.
Every girl on our team did something a little bit better than the next player, Bevel says. When you put them all together, you got quite an operation.
While a national title eluded the Lakettes, they were, in all likelihood, the most fun team in the nation.
Before every game, the Lakettes would be led in a chant by first baseman Cindy Brown, who would call out, Were goin on a lion hunt and command responses from each player.
The Review gave heavy coverage to the Lakettes, describing them as imaginative, uninhibited and even funky.
We were just a fun team, says ace pitcher Mary Ellen Lorentz. A silly and fun team, and we had a great old time.
For the Lakettes, it was almost as important what happened off the field as much as on the field. Their bus trips were hilarious, especially when they were coming home after winning a tournament.
Kim Knox, the teams super shortstop, says, Most of the really good Lakettes stories are best kept out of print.
What really brought the Lakettes together were their campouts. Almost all of their opposing teams in tournaments stayed in comfy hotels, but the Lakettes stayed out in tents.
The other teams were surprised, because Lake Oswego was thought of as the big money city, Bevel says.
But roughing it was just the way the Lakettes wanted to go.
Kim Knoxs mother made a great big pot of chili, Bevel says, and wed sleep in tents on the edge of town.
Thats what made it fun, Lorentz says. It caused a lot of bonding.
The Lakettes would get out of their tents the next morning, and whip all of the other teams in the tournament.
Perhaps the most special thing about the Lakettes, though, was their love for the game. They played in an era when funding for girls sports was practically non-existent. The indefatigable Bevel was a huge help when it came to fundraising, but it was the girls who helped themselves the most.
Those girls would go out in Lake Oswego and bring back bushels of money, Bevel says. They were MUCH better at fundraising than boys.
It is amusing and heartening to read in The Review about the Lakettes fierce determination to raise enough money to send them to tournaments. Even when the odds were quite crushing, as they were in 1980 after they had qualified for the national tournament in Lansing, Mich.
Well take out a loan at a bank if we have to, promises the ever-feisty Cindy Brown.
Yes, the Lakettes did acquire enough money to go to nationals in 1980. But in 1981, they qualified for nationals again, and this time they couldnt raise enough money to go. You cant win them all.
But the Lakettes were winners, great winners, and 30 years after their final game, they will get to relive the pride, glory and fun on Sept. 9. This reunion figures to be like a really great campout.
There is a sense of wonder in Mary Ellen Lorentzs voice when she says, It is going to be so great. I havent seen some of these people in forever. What will stand out will be seeing the old teammates I played with for so many summers.
The girl with the whiplash arm
When Mary Ellen Lorentz was the ace pitcher for the Lake Oswego Lakettes her teammates called her Melon.
Why Melon? The answer is easy.
Its a combination of Mary and Ellen, Lorentz said.
However, it was never easy to solve Lorentz when she was pitching for the Lakettes for 14 seasons, from 1973-1986. The Review called her the girl with the whiplash arm. But Lorentz considered her fastball the lesser weapon in her arsenal of pitches.
I had a rise, and my best pitch was my slow rise, Lorentz said. I was a junk ball pitcher. I changed up the speeds a lot. I loved my change-up. When batters tried to hit it their bats flew out right next to me.
Yes, when Lorentz dished up her change-up it was like a trap door opened up underneath the batter. She was incredibly confident in the pitch. One time, she took a page out of the book of Muhammad Ali and Dizzy Dean when pitching against the Canadian National Team.
I even forewarned them it was coming, Lorentz said. They still missed it. Batters did not like my change-up.
It was a good thing Lorentz was so good because the Lakettes were not known for being a team of sluggers. What made them winners were great pitching, great defense and rocket arms in the outfield.
People kind of worried about us, Lorentz said.
When the Lakettes needed amazing things of Lorentz, she usually came through. Like the time she pitched a 25-inning, five-hour game to defeat Australia 1-0. She often pitched several games on one tournament day. She was truly an iron girl.
It went on like this year after year, and the highlight came when Lorentz pitched the Lakettes to a berth in the national tournament in 1980. But that ended with a big disappointment when she had to leave early because of school teaching commitments. Its hard to win a national title trophy without a pitcher who throws an unhittable change-up.
Still, Lorentz and her teammates achieved tremendous success, winning state and regional titles and all kinds of tournament trophies. She now displays three large ones in her home in Portland.
Today, Lorentz still looks like a lean, mean pitching machine, and she insists her arm is in great shape. So, if the Lakettes ever rise again, just like always, Mary Ellen Melon Lorentz will be ready.