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    Posted April 30, 2014 by
    San Angelo, Texas
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    Senior Woman Reflects on Memories of San Angelo's First Women's Softball Team

    Jonnie Corbell recalls the sound of the roaring crowd when she stopped the opposing team from running past third base. She can still feel the dust kicking up around her ankles, and she remembers the feel of the hot sun shining down on the diamond fields where she and her teammates played softball for San Angelo’s first women’s softball team, The Red Chicks. Corbell has lived in San Angelo for much of her life and now lives at Baptist Retirement Community. A firecracker back in her softball days, she still has a spry attitude and is a tomboy at heart in her mid-60s.

    “I grew up in Eola and started playing softball in high school,” Corbell said. “First they organized a women’s volleyball team, then they added a softball team and so forth. Women’s opportunities to play sports were expanding when I was in school in the late 1930s and early 1940s. When I moved to San Angelo, Blondie Cross, sports editor for the San Angelo Standard Times, was organizing the city’s first softball team for women. When I heard about the formation of the Red Chicks, I signed up right away. I had discovered my passion for the sport in high school and wanted to pursue it.”

    Corbell played third base, but also enjoyed batting. She said nothing beat the feeling and sound of the whack of the bat hitting the ball, watching it sail through the air and taking off for the home run. Her teammate, Stella Roach, would purposefully bunt the ball because she knew Corbell could get to the bases quicker than anyone else. Corbell compared herself to a jack rabbit, attributing her agility to her small size and long legs. Corbell was always confident before each game and did not let her nerves get to her. The Red Chicks played three games a week on average. The team’s players ranged from girls in their teenage years to women in their 30s. The women wore pants, a jersey and a cap as part of their uniform.

    “We won most of our games,” said Corbell. “Our pitcher, Nina Ray Hobbs, was very talented and the rest of our team played well together. After a win, we would celebrate with pizza or ice cream. Traveling was fun, and we always stayed in hotels. We usually traveled to Dallas and San Antonio for our tournaments. Beyond playing the games, the camaraderie that you built with your teammates was really special. We had a lot of good times together, during the wins and the losses.”

    Corbell said Blondie was an encouraging coach who supported women’s sports. He was not too hard on them and was laid back. Some of the girls had experience when they started and some learned as they went. There were about 12 to 15 players on the team. They carpooled to the matches and tournaments around town and in outlying cities. Any time they made it to a tournament or won a game, the Red Chicks team was featured in the Standard Times, naturally.

    “I played from 1949 to 1952,” said Corbell. “Unfortunately, I had to quit the team because a 15-year-old car driver crashed into my car, hurling me out of the car. Although my softball career ended abruptly, I still attended the games and watched them from home. If the opportunity arises, I like to go to the games even now. Nothing beats sitting in the bleachers, enjoying your favorite sport and eating a ball-park frank.”

    Fellow residents at Baptist Retirement Community are also excited for the start of softball and baseball season. Corbell is not the only retired player. Many of the residents have fun stories to share about one of America’s greatest pastimes. She looks forward to watching the games with family and friends.

    “Many of the residents lived during historical milestones and their stories are always so fascinating,” said executive director Quinda Feil-Duncan. “It is interesting to listen to Jonnie’s experiences and to think that it was not always so common for women to play sports. We enjoy hearing stories about the Red Chicks. They are very inspiring.”
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