Editor's Note: This is the first of four articles in a series about the Heights Church League.
The tradition of fellowship and softball is one that the Heights Church League has upheld for decades now. The 10-team league plays every Sunday at Forest Hills Park, Monticello or Roxboro middle schools.
“It’s a great thing because it is good recreation and strengthens the bonds within the church,” said Dr. Charles Yoost, senior pastor at . “It’s also a great outreach tool because a lot of times the first thing guys get involved with is the softball league. They find out there is such a good group of guys that they decide they want to come to church and see what else is going on.”
The league started around 1978; however, Church of the Saviour has members who recall playing softball 50 years ago in different leagues. has similar stories and all-time statistics dating back to the 1960s.
Many churches have played in the league over the years, and today it features eight: The Church of the Saviour, The , , Forest Hill Presbyterian, St. Ann Parish (now the ), , and Hillcrest United Methodist. Church of the Saviour and Forest Hill each field two teams.
Current co-commissioner John Petre took over running the league about 20 years ago with David Cumming. They did so because they thought they could make it more affordable than the local YMCA, which previously ran the league. The two decided to volunteer their time to cut costs in half. Petre is still a co-commissioner. Cumming stepped down five seasons ago and was replaced by Kurt Culbertson. Cumming’s church, First Baptist, withdrew from the league last season.
“I love seeing the camaraderie between the teams,” Petre said. “It is very competitive, but when the game is over the teams are very friendly with one another. It’s great for the community and the churches.”
The camaraderie is what attracts most players to the league. Fairmount manager Brendan Pham notices that the league isn’t as focused on winning as competitors in other leagues.
“The attitude of the players is a little bit different in some of the other leagues I’ve played in,” Pham said. “The sportsmanship isn’t quite as good as the church league. I don’t mind playing a good game and losing, but in other leagues some guys get pretty bitter about it.”
The league is really dependent on managers. Many, like Pham, have played in the league for 20 years and know the rules well. They are ultimately responsible for rallying their teams, recruiting players and ensuring that the league thrives.
“All Kurt and I do is provide information and guidance,” Petre said. “All decisions are made by the managers. We try to be more accommodating (than other leagues.) Some teams have events on Sunday so we move games to accommodate.”
One way the commissioners accommodate is with the league cost, which is relatively low. Teams spend about $500 per season. That includes a $235 league fee and $250 for umpire fees (for 20 games minimum at $12.50 per game). The cost for some teams fluctuates depending on how far they advance in playoffs. Based on this year’s bracket, a team could play a maximum of seven tournament games. If there is money left over at the end of the season, it is divided among the teams.
“It’s probably one of the lowest-cost leagues around,” Petre said.
The league also participates in an all-star game against the Euclid Church Softball League during Memorial Day Weekend, a tradition that started in 2010. Each team selects two all-stars to compete in a doubleheader. They’ve been very competitive, all coming down to the seventh inning. Unfortunately, this one ended in a tie during the top of the seventh, but the game is something that is definitely going to continue and that only expands the impact of church softball.
“I just hope it keeps getting to be a stronger community where we don’t have any walls that prevent us from reaching out to people,” said Forest Hill No. 1 team (the church has two teams) manager Daryl Musick.
The Heights Church Softball League begins its end-of-the-year playoffs this Sunday at . There are four sessions of games at 3 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. While the majority of the tournament occurs at Forest Hill Park, after the 4:15 p.m. session some of the consolation games will take place at and middle schools. The double-elimination tournament concludes at the same times on Sunday, Aug. 7, where the 2011 champion will be crowned.
Chris Sweeney is a member of The Church of the Saviour and is currently in his sixth year of playing in the Heights Church Softball League.