Friendship, sportsmanship flourish in softball league

NEIGHBORS

July 13, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CRACK! A dozen bench-sitters jump to their feet as the fat white ball arcs across a perfect blue sky.

Players on the field run to intercept it, reaching out with large leather-gloved hands.

The batter hustles along a faded chalk line toward a vinyl square, watching the ball as she goes. It lands on dry grass, bouncing away from the fielders. Her green-shirted teammates, already shouting, chant "Take second! TAKE second!"

The batter turns the corner, heading for second base. In the field, a player moving in from the left scoops up the ball and fires it on the run to the waiting second baseman.

The second baseman hears the urgent sound of cleats churning the dry clay as the ball slaps into her glove.

In one smooth motion, the baseman sweeps the gloved ball down -- as the runner slides into the base in a cloud of dust -- and tags her out.

The green shirts fall silent as the other bench, in royal blue jerseys, erupts in whoops and high-fives.

Every Sunday, members of the Cindy La Rue Co-Rec Softball League play softball on three fields behind Wilde Lake Middle School.

Eighteen teams with more than 300 players meet for three 1 1/2-hour sessions to battle for little more than bragging rights. Six of the teams are affiliated with east Columbia villages.

The Owen Brown Clowns, K.C. Royals, Wild Bunch, Orange Crush, Spiral Cut Throats and East Side Panthers all have their roots in our neighborhood, although village identities have been blurred by a constant influx of new members.

The league was formed in 1980 by a group of friends in the Village of Long Reach.

Judy Clancy, now executive director of the Domestic Violence Center, was a founding member and state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer an early league player, along with former Long Reach Village Board member Phil Blustein and Jim Uphouse (husband of Sara Uphouse, Long Reach Community Association manager).

"No matter where you play, it's competitive," said Kasemeyer, who has been on several men's league teams in Howard County, "but I liked this because it was fun. The performance expectation wasn't there, and that was a relief."

In the beginning, the league was called the Intervillage Softball League. The name was changed in 1994 to honor the memory of a player who best exemplified the spirit of joyful competition and neighborly enthusiasm that the co-ed league promotes.

Cynthia Day La Rue had played in the league for only a year before she died.

A native of Bonita, Calif., La Rue was a member of a now defunct team, the Green Toads. Her brother, Sean Sharpnack, played on another team -- the Hickory Nuts, from Hickory Ridge.

Off the field, it was not uncommon to see La Rue baby-sitting children from other teams during games.

"Cindy really was what this league is all about," said Robert "Skip" McAfee, league commissioner since 1991. "She encouraged her teammates and applauded her opponents."

La Rue, 29, was killed at the office of her employer, a construction data firm in Greenbelt, on Aug. 23, 1993. A fellow employee shot her for no apparent reason before taking his life.

In 1994, Skip McAfee renamed the league in her memory.

League members pay $15 a year to play. The money goes to finance an end-of-year party at which plaques are presented to team members whose attitudes and behavior exemplify the spirit of Cindy La Rue. The plaques are donated by player Joe Davidson, a Columbia dentist.

Couples or singles can win the awards. Two years ago, Steve and Gayle Knect, members of Orange Crush, earned the honor. The couple moved to Columbia from Montgomery County in 1995.

"We joined to meet people," said Steve Knect, an attorney.

The motive is not unusual. The league has a waiting list of potential players.

From the beginning, the idea behind the league was to have fun. The teams field players with a wide range of abilities. Age is not a barrier, nor is athletic prowess.

"Skill is not required," McAfee said. "We just want players to come out and try."

"You won't see anybody out here not competing," countered Jim Nelson of the K.C. Royals, a team associated with the Village of Kings Contrivance.

When they are not playing, players serve as umpires for competing teams. It's friendly -- but team spirit runs high, so these umps are not immune from razzing from the losing side of the decision.

The players are as diverse as Columbia. Doctors, police officers and roofers compete against firefighters, scientists and stay-at-home moms.

The league even claims its own meteorologist.

A weekly newsletter, "The Commit Line," reports the standings of the 16 teams in the league.

Lively banter always follows the distribution of the paper at games, because the previous week's successes are reflected in a list of scores.

Printing for the newsletter is donated by George Martyan of Parcel Plus in Long Reach Village Center.

Fans pack the grassy sidelines in the shade of young pine trees on a Sunday afternoon. From newborns to grandparents, they're here to watch favorite players reach for their personal best.

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