Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Softball hall of fame tosses award to hurler Graham

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AS a boy growing up in Winnipeg's city centre, I spent a lot of time at the old Wesley ball park located at the corner of Ellice and Balmoral where the University of Winnipeg now stands, watching Winnipeg senior women's fastball being played.

The West Kildonan Tigerettes and CUAC Blues always to put on a great show for the fans, and it always seemed that when my favourite pitcher June Graham was on the mound, the Tigerettes would come out on top.

I never met Graham personally way back then, but yesterday I was able to extend my hand and thank her for so many wonderful experiences, as the Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame and Museum announced that she and seven other individuals, as well as two teams, would be inducted into the hall on May 7, at a gala dinner to be held at the Canad Inn Polo Park.

Graham and T. Kent Morgan will enter the hall in the all-around category, while the Goodman sisters (Freda, Babe and Goodie), Mary (Cooperband) Rusen, Ruth (Middleton) Gentry, Donna Chief, Lorne Jasper and Ron Gustafson, enter as athletes.

The two teams are McKay United Men's Fastpitch (1988 and 89), as well as Victoria Girls Softball Team (1928-30, 1932 and 33).

When Graham, who is one month shy of 71 and battling breast cancer, grips your hand to shake it, you want to believe she can still smoke the ball over the outside corner of the plate any time she pleases. "I went swimming the other day with a friend of mine," she chuckled, "and my God I am so out of shape. But I could still throw a ball I think."

Graham began playing for the West Kildonan Tigerettes when she was 13. "I played for them until I was 18, then I took a couple of years off, and played for the them again for a while. Then I switched teams to CUAC in 1968."

As a player, Graham represented Manitoba in several national championships, and once her playing days were over, she served the sport in the capacities of coach and administrator. As a historian, Graham was a driving force behind the largest women's softball reunion ever held in Manitoba in 1979 and the formation and operation of the MSHFM.

"I used to have a little pitching mound down the side of the house," Graham, who pitched the orthodox style, recalled, "and my dad would pick me up from school, and I'd practice for 15-20 minutes every day.

"When I started everything was orthodox."

Although the press release listed only eight individual inductees, the Goodman sisters (Freda, Babe and Goodie) were always a package deal, and that's the way the trio will enter the Hall May 7, at the Canad Inns Polo Park.

The Goodmans began playing softball as teenagers with St. John's Presbyterian Church before moving up in 1923 to play for the Winnipeg Senior Girls' League, where they won their first 104 games with the Ramblers.

Babe, who played third base, and Freda and Goodie, who covered the middle of the infield at shortstop and second base, will be joined at the induction by fellow athletes Marry (Cooperband) Rusen, Ruth (Middleton) Gentry, Donna Chief, Lorne Jasper and Ron Gustafson.

All-around inductees will be June Graham and T. Kent Morgan, while the two teams to enter the hallowed hall were McKay United Men's Fastpitch (1988 and 89), and Victoria Girls Softball Team (1928-30, 32 and 33).

The Goodman sisters, Rusen and Gentry will all be inducted posthumously.

Tickets for the dinner are $60. For more information, contact MSA president Murray Blight at 1-204-725-1360, or email (mblight@mts.net).

allan.besson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2011 B10

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