For dozens of Catholic young adults in the South Bay, Sundays in the spring mean morning Mass, a focus on Lent and preparation for Easter --- and, for them, one other meaningful rite of renewal: softball.
This spring marks the 30th season for the South Bay Catholic Coed Young Adult Softball League. For these “boys and girls of spring/summer,” their participation in softball is more than exercise or a game; it’s an opportunity for spirituality and fellowship with other young adults.
“We play softball together,” says Cindy Burkhardt Resong, a veteran player who helps manage the league, “but we also share in each other’s lives through barbecues, weddings, births, baptisms, first Communions, vacations, holidays and funerals.”
Not only are several young adults who played during the 1980s still active, but some of their kids are now players. The “veterans” still enjoy playing ball as well as networking with others, while raising families and holding down jobs.
Cindy, as an example, is Dr. Cynthia Burkhardt in her professional life, a successful practitioner of chiropractic medicine. On Sundays from March to June, she’s either pitching or playing in the outfield for the St. James team in Redondo Beach.
Tom Hanniff played on a St. James team for two decades, initially with Cindy, “her two sisters, my two sisters and a brother-in-law. Since then we’ve included other siblings. I have three brothers and two sisters and we’ve all played on St. James teams. I’ve made a lot of new friends through the softball league. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Cindy met her husband Joe on the St. James team in 1986. Another couple, Ron and Catherine Leeder from St. Joseph’s in Hawthorne, also met in the softball league, and later were married.
Bringing young adults together in fellowship has always been the goal of league founder Fred Lawler, who moved here from Virginia to work for TRW and was seeking a meaningful spiritual activity that would link parishes together.
Then, says Fred, he “heard a clear voice from above: softball could be the spiritual link.” Filled with zeal, he used his engineer’s logic, organizing ability, and enthusiasm to convince seven parishes to form coed softball teams --- and solve logistical issues like reserving city fields, establishing league rules, and determining costs (to rent fields and cover liability insurance).
Fred also insisted on group prayer before each game, and required each team to play at least four women per game (several women now coach their teams) and fostering “the right spirit” in competition. The league was launched on the first weekend of March 1985.
In three decades since, there have been exciting playoff games, fun mid-season picnics, and special events. Just as significantly, some inactive Catholics have returned to the church after their involvement in the league. And many players participate in small group Bible studies, and serve in parish ministries together.
“I’ve benefited so much from the league being a part of my life and I’ve seen long-term friendships develop from it,” Fred emphasized. “The league is both a fun social outlet and a competitive challenge.”
Participating parishes have included St. Catherine Laboure in Torrance, St. John Fisher in Rancho Palos Verdes, American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach, St. James and St. Lawrence Martyr in Redondo Beach, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach, St. Margaret Mary in Lomita, Mary Star of the Sea in San Pedro, Our Lady of Refuge and St. Bartholomew’s in Long Beach. St. James at one time fielded three teams; American Martyrs typically fields two; and St. Augustine (Culver City), St. Monica (Santa Monica) and Bishop Montgomery High School (Torrance) have also participated.
“The church league is different,” says veteran participant Paul Clarke, brother of Father Jim Clarke (of St. John’s Seminary), whohas played in city leagues as well. “People are here to have fun and meet other church members and friends from other teams. It’s refreshing.”
The league’s 30th season continues with practice games on Feb. 23, and its regular season runs from March 2 thru late June. Games are played after Mass on Sunday afternoons at Wilson Park in Torrance. For additional information about the softball league, contact Fred Lawler, (310) 504-0271 or [email protected].
This article is updated from one originally published in The Tidings on Feb. 13, 2004.