Swing away! Area businesses go to bat to sponsor softball teams

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Instead of filing, they're sliding. Rather than fielding a phone call, they're playing center field. And -- for a few hours in the evening anyway -- area employees are opting to crush a softball rather than crunch the numbers.

Company softball time has arrived, with 58 area businesses -- from restaurants to mortgage companies -- sponsoring softball teams that play schedules drawn up by the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department.

Competition for some teams began as early as April 17 and all teams wrap up their season by Aug. 24. Games are played at Shawnee Park Sports Complex.

There are seven divisions of teams, eight if you count the church-sponsored division. The divisions are based on skill level. Some are men-only teams; others are co-ed.

Businesses that sponsor teams have their names printed on the back of the jerseys worn by players, said Amanda Ourth of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Scott Williams, the recreation division manager at the department, said "a bit of advertising" is involved -- and that's a good thing. He said as soon as teams and leagues are created "it's trickle down." Uniforms, trophies and sports equipment are bought, which means there's plenty of economic activity. Also, teams from Perryville, Sikeston and other cities compete in Cape Girardeau, and Williams said that's "a good benefit for the city. They spend money here on food, gas and other items."

Many companies sponsor teams for their employees, and on some teams spouses of employees can play, Williams said. Teams seeking sponsors often contact area beer distributors, which are long-time supporters of sports.

A new sponsor this year is Texas Roadhouse, which opened in Cape Girardeau eight months ago. Managing partner James Childers said the idea of sponsoring a softball team for employees was discussed when the restaurant opened.

"We thought sponsoring and forming a team was a good idea from the start," Childers said. "When we found out a league was available, we got involved fast. We always call ourselves a team in the workplace, so we get our guys together outside the workplace where we are also a team and also having fun."

Zickfield Jewelry & Gifts in Cape Girardeau is a long-time softball team sponsor. Kent Zickfield said he has been involved in a league since 1970 when he was a player. He has also been a coach.

"This is the 36th season we've had a team," said Zickfield, adding that his son is a player on the team, which is called Zickfield's. "We've had the same group for quite a few years now. We're not an employee-only team. It's made up of friends and acquaintances. When we need an outfielder or someone to fill in, we usually have no problem finding one because it's a lot of fun."

Rick Blattner, owner of Blattner Steel in Cape Girardeau, said he started sponsoring a team four years ago when some employees expressed interest in joining a softball league.

"Some of our employees are on the team, but players are also friends of employees who work elsewhere but might not be sponsored by their employers," said Blattner. "We won a trophy last year in the C-2 league, which is pretty competitive."

Other sponsors this year include Bank of Missouri, BG's Deli, The Billiard Center, Fazoli's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Nordenia USA, Rude Dog Pub, Miller Lite, American Financial Mortgage, Schindler's Tavern and Bob's Shoe Service.

Brotherhood of Painters & Allied Trades Local 1292 in Cape Girardeau is sponsoring two softball teams for the first time this year. Financial secretary Harold Schaefer said one of the local's members came to a monthly meeting and asked if the union would sponsor teams he was forming. Schaefer said the local would be happy to. He said it's a kind of community service.

Local 1292 member Roy Diamond, who formed the teams -- a men's team and a co-ed -- both called Local Union 1292, said the union paid the entry fee for the teams and also bought the jerseys.

"We have a total of 24 players," said Diamond. "I'm the only one who's in the union, so I think it's great that the union is sponsoring so many people."

Businesses also sponsor softball teams not associated with the Parks and Recreation Department. Harold "Skeeter" Schweer of Cape Girardeau has been coaching softball teams since the early 1980s. His teams don't always play in Cape Girardeau -- they travel Missouri and nearby states and play in city-sponsored tournaments.

"We rely on business sponsorships as much as we can," he said. "We put the name of businesses on our jerseys just like other teams do. I think that makes businesses feel proud that they're helping the community, which they are."

Schweer said that last year his team, Skeeter's Boys, whose roster includes players from the Cape Girardeau area and northern Arkansas, was sponsored by Bank of Missouri in Perryville. This year two Arkansas businesses are sponsors.

"There's been a lot of businesses in Cape and other cities that have helped sponsor my teams over the years," he said.

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