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Fri May 27, 2011
The Almighty Cleavers: a softball team built to lose
I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by all objective sources to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great 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 burn-outs got the park permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, with names like the Junior Junkies, the Extra Burly Studs, 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. (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, 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 wrote one of the characters’ names on the back: Ward, Wally, Eddie – we had ‘em all. Now all we needed were ten 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.
But what I saw next defied explanation: Against a bunch of guys who clearly wanted to beat us, our coed squad won the game. And then, another.
It was incredible. Once the women 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 tough playoff loss to the 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, figured it was some American thing.
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 wins – and either way, get over it. “No One Cares!”
It was low-rent, small stakes, and big fun – because it was ours.
I don’t think kids today have any idea what that feels like.