Column: A Season of Small-Stakes Softball

Ode to summertime slackers at Ann Arbor's Huron High
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by every objective source to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great when I was there was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too. But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less. That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burnouts got the park permits – God bless ‘em – and every clique had a team, from the guys in auto shop to marching band. They gave their teams names like the Extra Burly Studs, the Master Batters and – yes – the ‘Nads. If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

My buddies and I failed to get a team together our junior year, but our senior year, we found inspiration. Most of my friends weren’t playing spring sports, so we came home every day after school to catch “Leave It To Beaver” re-runs on Channel 20 – on something called UHF. (Kids, go ask Grandpa.)

Come softball season, we were moved to build a team around that very name: The Cleavers. But if we were going to face battle-tested squads like the All-Star Rogues and the Ghetto Tigers, we knew we’d need an edgier name. And that’s when we came up with – yes – the Almighty Cleavers. You know, to instill fear in our opponents.

You can imagine how well that worked.

Our next stroke of genius was our uniform: we each got one of our dads’ undershirts, then used a laundry marker to write one of the characters’ names on the back: Ward, Wally, Eddie – we had ‘em all. Now all we needed were 10 more players.

No problem. Once word got out about our hardcore name and unis, people flocked to our team, even a half-dozen women. None of the other teams were co-ed, but there was no rule against it – because there were almost no rules. That’s what you get when you play in a league founded by burnouts.

We didn’t just expect to lose. We were built to lose. But we didn’t care. In fact, that was our team motto: “We Don’t Care.” Whenever somebody was seen running too hard or – god forbid – sliding into home plate, we started our chant: “We Don’t Care! We Don’t Care!”

The girls could play wherever they wanted, and nobody was allowed to yell at anyone, no matter how badly they screwed up.

It probably helped that, like most teams, we brought cooling beverages to each game, be they “jumbos” of Goebel’s, “torpedoes” of Colt 45 or, for big games, an actual quarter barrel of Stroh’s Bohemian Style. We’d set it up right at the corner of Huron Parkway and Fuller, with Lord knows how many teachers, parents and police officers driving by. No one cared.

Yes, I know we were being stupid and illegal, but you have to remember this was at a time when Huron had a smoking lounge for students, Ann Arbor had a five-dollar pot law, and the Almighty Cleavers were probably on the conservative side of things. Okay, on a very relative scale. And all of it might explain why I can’t recall a single fight among the 12 tribes that played. (Take that any way you want.)

But what I saw next defied explanation: Against a bunch of guys who clearly wanted to beat us, our co-ed squad won the game. And then, another. And another.

It was incredible. Once the girls realized they weren’t going to get yelled at, their Inner Softball Players came out – and before we knew it, we finished the regular season at 9-2, in second place.

Well, our magical season had to come to an end, and it did – with a playoff loss to the always-tough Junior Junkies. Even more heartbreaking, actor Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver, died the week before, prompting all of us to draw black armbands on our sacred jerseys.

But then, something even stranger happened. The mother of one of our founders happened to be the president of the American Psychiatric Association, so reporters were always calling her up to get her expert opinion on this or that. When an Associated Press reporter asked her about violence on television, she finally said, “Well, it can’t be that bad. My son watches ‘Leave It to Beaver’ every day with his buddies.’”

It just so happened the reporter was a big “Leave It to Beaver” fan, and voila! All of a sudden our team was on the AP wire, in the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and featured in TV Guide, for crying out loud.

My grandparents, in from Eastern Canada, must have been completely confused – or simply assumed all American teenagers appear in national stories for playing IM softball as a rite of passage before graduating. But the unexpected attention wasn’t the point.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun playing anything than I did playing intramural softball that spring. No parents, no umpires, no rules except most runs win – and win or lose, get over it. “No One Cares!”

It was low-rent, small stakes, and big, big fun – because it was ours.

I don’t think kids today have any idea what that feels like.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the Wall Street Journal, and ESPN Magazine, among others. He is the author of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and “Third and Long: Three Years with Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines,” due out this fall through FSG. Bacon teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009.


  1. By Dan Ezekiel
    May 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm | permalink

    Great article, John! You did a wonderful job of evoking the high school scene of (I assume) the Seventies. I’m glad you mentioned the smoking lounge at Huron. We had one at Pioneer as well, and every time I mention that to anyone under 40, they look at me like I’m crazy.

    Pioneer’s smoking lounge also doubled as a smoking CAFETERIA. It had tuna fish cans for ashtrays, and the air looked as if a smoke bomb had just gone off at all times. including lunch. That same room is now the gorgeous cafeteria (with skylights and international flags) near the clock tower doors.

  2. By Dan Ezekiel
    May 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm | permalink

    Perhaps I need to clarify, these smoking lounges were for STUDENTS.

  3. May 28, 2011 at 9:36 am | permalink

    Thanks, Dan — those are some memories!

    No one can believe this stuff — but it was all true.

    And, for the record, I’m a proud graduate of Huron High, class of ’82.

    GO RATS!! (Had to get that one in.)


  4. By Frank Visovatti
    May 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm | permalink

    Hey John, as a Huron parent of Lucy Ann, Mark and Michael I don’t actually recall the softball scenario, however it does mimic in tone if not structure the many “activities” perpetrated in Forestbrook Subdivision and invirons by our neighborhood youth (most of whom went to Huron)all in summer fun.

  5. By Brad Thompson
    May 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    While I’m a true purple Pioneer (’72), I was also a Tappan kid therefore having lots of Huron friends. Loved the Friday afternoon drag races at Huron in the parking lot. Also school administration approved. It certainly was different back then. Perhaps the administration thought allowing us to blow off steam this way was better than tearing the high schools down.