Take Me Out to the Ballgame (3/18/2022)

Good news if you are a baseball fan. This week the major league owners and players reached an agreement to end the lockout. This spring and summer we can look forward to enjoying what some people call America’s Pastime – baseball. The Urban Dictionary states that baseball “Gets the nickname ‘America’s Pastime’ due [to] its popularity and history in the U.S.” If the lockout continued, we might have to revive the softball and baseball teams that many FFA chapters had in days past. In this Footnote we will explore the relationship between baseball (and softball) and the FFA from a bygone era.

Figure 1. The Hillsborough, Florida FFA softball team won the eight-county Championship in 1956. Photo from the Tampa Tribune, May 5, 1956.

We started this year looking at the original aims and purposes of the FFA. One of the purposes was “To provide recreation and educational entertainment for students of vocational agriculture.” In recent Footnotes we have explored how FFA chapters in the past had basketball teams and boxing teams. We don’t want to ignore “America’s Pastime” – baseball (and softball)

In the Beginning

In November of 1928 thirty-three delegates from 18 states attending the National Congress of Vocational Agriculture Students in Kansas City voted to establish the national Future Farmers of America. So, how long was it before FFA chapters were playing baseball? Not long at all.

The Garden City (KS) Telegram reported the Holcomb Future Farmers played the Garden City Future Farmers in baseball on November 6, 1929. There were probably earlier games, but this was the first I could document.

In Scranton’s Fun and Work for Future Farmers chapter on “Athletic Activities” various FFA chapters were mentioned:

  • In 1931 the New Brunswick, New Jersey FFA reported “The F.F.A. baseball team has thus far had a successful season. On May 6, we defeated Madison High School Aggies, 7 to 6. Our next game is with Clinton High School.”
  • The Halfway FFA chapter in Oregon was going to Imbler to compete in a baseball contest in 1933.
  • In Illinois “A summer baseball schedule has been made up among various chapters in the section. A championship game will be played between the winners of the north and south parts of the section during the time of the Vocational Agriculture Section Fair this fall.” (FFA Newsletter, Illinois, 1933)

A perusal of articles about FFA baseball or softball teams in Newspapers.com for the 1930s found mentions of games or tournaments between FFA chapters in California, Pennsylvania, Maine, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The following clipping from the June 7, 1933 Daily News of Lebanon, Pennsylvania is one example of these clippings.

 Figure 2. The Daily News, Lebanon, Pennsylvania June 17, 1933

County, Regional and State Tournaments

It was common for schools to host baseball or softball tournaments. I have documented FFA softball or baseball tournaments in every decade from the 1930s through 2000.

In 1939 the Laton, California FFA hosted the annual softball tournament. Schools that participated were Roosevelt, Fowler, Kingsburg, Central, Riverdale, Caruthers and Laton. Roosevelt and Fowler were in the finals but had to stop play due to rain (The Fresno Bee, May 14, 1939).

Figure 3. Norris Godeaux of Opelousas makes it safely back to first base in the St. Landry Parish softball tournament held in 1956. The Sunset FFA team won the tournament. Photo from The Daily World (Opelousas, LA) May 18, 1956.

In 1962 the Brownstown Indiana FFA softball team won the FFA District II softball tournament. They defeated Seymour 14-7 and received a trophy which was to be displayed in the agricultural classroom. I wonder how many schools have softball trophies in their agriculture classrooms.

Show some pity! An article in the Tampa Bay Times dated June 1, 1960 indicated that Bradenton FFA would be playing for the state championship. They had played seven games and scored 98 runs while allowing the opponents a total of 4 runs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Benton Harbor. Michigan Herald-Tribune (July 11, 1940)  reported the FFA softball team was improving.

Figure 4. Benton Harbor (MI) Herald-Palladium, July 11, 1940

In Fairfield, Montana there was an annual FFA softball game and potluck dinner to celebrate the end of school and beginning of summer. In 1988, for the first time in six years the chapter team defeated the alumni team. (Fairfield, MT Times, July 8, 1988).

For years there was a state softball tournament open to all FFA chapters in Illinois. This tournament was held in conjunction with the state fair (See Figure 2). After the state fair discontinued hosting the tournament in 1990 the Seneca, Illinois FFA chapter continued the tradition until 2000.

Figure 5. From the Bellville (IL) News-Democrat, June 25, 1986.

I have found references to “state FFA softball tournaments” in Alabama (1935), Pennsylvania (1966), Louisiana (1948), and Florida (1952) in addition to Illinois. There could be others.

Hundreds of examples of FFA baseball and softball games could be given. Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nebraska, Florida, and Ohio appear to be the softball hotspots. A search of Newspapers.com for “FFA Softball” found newspaper articles about FFA softball in 22 states with the six states mentioned accounting for 56% of the hits (489/877).

Playing in Style

If you wanted to be in style the FFA Supply Service even sold FFA softball uniforms. The image below is from the 1951 Supply Service Catalog.

Figure 6. FFA Softball uniform from the 1950s

Even today you can find advertisements for FFA baseball shirts. A quick Google search found the following for sale for only $29.99. I wonder if this is a FFA sanctioned shirt. There are other FFA baseball jerseys on sale from a variety of vendors.

Figure 7. Advertisement for a FFA baseball shirt.

The Decline of FFA Softball

Times change. Students change. The high point of FFA softball appears to be from the 1930s through the 1950s. A search of Newspapers.com using the search term “FFA Softball” yielded 877 hits. The decade with the most matches was the 1950s with 198 matches followed by the 1980s with 151 matches, then the 1940s with 131 matches. The 1980s numbers were inflated because 52 of the matches came from Illinois where many local newspapers printed the state fair schedule which listed the state FFA softball tournament.

However, in some states FFA softball was still active into the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The photo below is from the Winona (MN) Daily News of August 8, 1992. You will notice there was a female on the softball team.

Figure 8.  Winona (MN) Daily News of August 8, 1992

 An article in the Fremont, Ohio News-Messenger shows how interest in FFA softball tournaments has declined. A July 22, 2010 news article states, “There was an FFA Softball Tournament June 2. Fremont played against Clyde FFA. Because of the lack of a full team, Clyde gave the Fremont FFA players so they could play. Fremont lost. No other chapters showed up to play.”

One of the few places where softball is still played by FFA members is at state FFA camps. This summer hundreds of softball games will be played across the nation in state FFA camps. The photo below is from the FFA Camp in North Carolina and was taken in 1955. A similar photo could be taken from the exact same spot a few months from now.

Figure 9. Playing softball at the North Carolina FFA Camp in 1955.

Concluding Remarks

There is an old saying that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” This saying first appeared in 1659 in James Howell’s Proverbs. This saying is still true today. With the emphasis on end-of-course test scores, AP and Honors classes, and the pressure on students to have a high Grade Point Average, we need to remember that some time needs to be devoted to play. There must be balance in our lives and in the lives of our students.

One of the original purposes of the FFA was to provide recreational opportunities for FFA members. We need to remember and put into practice this purpose of the FFA today.