My congregation’s knitting group has a summer event called Stitch n’ Pitch—we take our projects to a ball game together and have a fine time chatting, cheering on the home team and knitting a row or two (maybe).
The last couple of years we’ve gone out to cheer on Chicago’s one and only first-place team: The Bandits.
The Chicago Bandits are a professional women’s softball team. Their roster is packed full of former college players and even former Olympians—and it shows.
Our group gathered in the bleachers of the Bandits’ nice little ballpark well before game time. The stands were full of teams of excited young softball players in their bright uniforms, and they all cheered as the announcer welcomed each team by name.
Then several teams of girls lined the infield and greeted each starting player as she was announced. As the starters jogged out to their positions, each one had a girl on either side and all stood at attention and put their hands over their hearts when the national anthem was played.
Pretty smart, I thought; the team clearly does a good job building relationships with the girls’ softball leagues in town. That’s a good way to fill the stands for years to come.
Throughout the game, the players in both dugouts lined the rails, cheering on their teammates on the field. Then an opposing player slid hard into third (out!), picked herself up and almost immediately crumpled to the ground. Her teammates and coach ran to her—and so did our players and coach. It was her coach and our pitcher who supported her off the field as all the players applauded. I was impressed—all those young fans will remember that living example of good sportsmanship for a long time.
I was even more impressed when I saw the players after the game, signing girls’ souvenir softballs and generally making friends with hundreds of girls and with their parents.
The team even offers camps and clinics for young softball players. Not only are the Bandits making spectators into fans and friends, they’re helping young players develop their skills. Very smart. They’re planning for sustainability. They’re acting today to ensure their organization’s tomorrows.
Then I thought about what Women of the ELCA might learn from the Bandits.
Do we encourage our girls and young women? Do we treat one another with kindness? Do we invite them to join us and do we treat them respectfully when they do? Do we act today to ensure our organization’s tomorrows?
Let’s talk about it. Let’s pray about it. Let’s act on it.
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA. This blog first ran in August 2015.