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Former softball players reuniting with coach who formed team over 60 years ago

Norma Colborn, centre, behind the young girl, formed a girls' softball team in Delisle, Sask., in 1961. On Saturday, she and some of her former players are having a reunion. (Submitted by Shirley Shockey - image credit)
Norma Colborn, centre, behind the young girl, formed a girls' softball team in Delisle, Sask., in 1961. On Saturday, she and some of her former players are having a reunion. (Submitted by Shirley Shockey - image credit)

A group of former ball players is treating their coach to lunch in Saskatoon Saturday, thanking her for the memories and lessons they experienced decades ago.

Norma Colborn, now 94 years old, established a girls' softball team in Delisle, Sask., a town about 40 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon, that became a force provincially under her tenure in the 1960s.

"We would have come to the game with a few skills, just because we had spent hours amusing ourselves playing catch, or fielding fly balls or grounders in our yards, or playing scrub at school," said Shirley Shockey, Norma's younger sister, who played on the inaugural Delisle midget girls softball team.

Scrub is a form of baseball that only requires a handful of players, instead of fielding two teams of nine.

Baseball background

"But the chance to play on a real team was like a dream come true — and that's what Norma gave to us," she said.

Growing up, the Shockey family was synonymous with softball and baseball, she said. Her father coached the Vanscoy Caps, a local girls' softball team, during the 1940s and 1950s. Norma and their other sister Eleanor each played for the team.

Norma Colborn, sitting second-right in the bottom row, played for the Vanscoy Caps softball team under her father. Her sister Eleanor, sitting to Norma's right, also played.
Norma Colborn, sitting second-right in the bottom row, played for the Vanscoy Caps softball team under her father. Her sister Eleanor, sitting to Norma's right, also played.

Norma Colborn, sitting second-right in the bottom row, played for the Vanscoy Caps softball team under her father. Her sister Eleanor, sitting to Norma's right, also played. (Submitted by Shirley Shockey)

In 1961, Norma had been married for nearly a decade and was raising three children on a farm, Shirley said. Yet, she started a girls' softball team.

The team drew midget-aged girls from Delisle, as well as nearby Vanscoy and Donavon, including Shirley, who is 17-and-a-half years younger than Norma.

They had no money, so Norma and her mother sewed all the uniforms, Shirley said. They had to use old equipment, too.

But the team became a ringer quickly, winning back-to-back provincial titles in 1962 and 1963. The team clinched another championship in an older age category in 1965.

The Delisle softball team won back-to-back provincial titles, in 1962 and 1963, while Norma Colborn was at the helm.
The Delisle softball team won back-to-back provincial titles, in 1962 and 1963, while Norma Colborn was at the helm.

The Delisle softball team won back-to-back provincial titles, in 1962 and 1963, while Norma Colborn was at the helm. (Submitted by Shirley Shockey)

Shirley recalls droves of people watching them play. Cars surrounded the ball diamond, she said, and whenever the team notched a hit or made an out, people honked their horns.

Coach remembered as role model

It took some convincing, but Shirley will be driving her older sister to the Berry Barn in Saskatoon on Saturday to reunite with about a dozen of the 25 players who played under Norma on the first Delisle team.

Norma later coached again for her own daughter.

Some of those who couldn't attend sent messages to Shirley about the impact Norma had on them.

One woman recounted how she showed them the etiquette of the game and how to conduct themselves on the field. Another remembered she had "the biggest smile," signalling how much she liked coaching, which added to the players' enjoyment.

Shirley remembers her sister's enthusiasm, too.

Norma Colborn, right, poses with her husband. The couple have been married for nearly 72 years.
Norma Colborn, right, poses with her husband. The couple have been married for nearly 72 years.

Norma Colborn, right, and her husband Keith Colborn have been married for nearly 72 years. (Submitted by Shirley Shockey)

After winning their first championship, players packed into Norma's vehicle to drive back to Delisle, she recalled. When they arrived, Norma drove through the streets, honking the car horn to let the town know they won.

"To this day, she's still a role model for me and for others, to show us how to grow old with dignity and grace," Shirley said.

Shirley is still unsure about exactly what motivated her sister to start a ball club, she said. Regardless, she's grateful.

"Pretty much everybody, when they look back in their lives, they can see three or four decisions that were made that changed the entire direction of their life," she said. "For me, that decision wasn't made by me. It was made by my sister when she started that team."

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Newspaper clippings obtained by CBC News suggest Shirley was a star pitcher when she played for her sister, but she went on to build a decades-long career out of softball as well.

From 1961 to 2006, there was only one year when Shirley was not involved with softball as a player, coach or administrator, she said.

In 2005, she was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as a builder for her work as a coach and administrator.

"I was the most fortunate of all the players that played for Norma, for sure," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed Saturday's reunion by several years, Shirley said, so she's looking forward to seeing her former teammates with Norma and recounting stories they may have forgotten over the last 60 years.