Labor Day concluded softball season in Gowanda
When the game of men's fast-pitch softball began to fade locally in the early 1970s, the men's slow-pitch game with the high pitching arc took over. Teams and leagues sprang up all over Western New York beginning in early May and concluded with a huge Labor Day Tournament in Buffalo.
The Gowanda Men's Slow Pitch League officially began on May 19, 1974. But several players from the Gowanda area had begun playing the sport a few years earlier in the Southtowns League.
The South Shore Inn in Angola sponsored a team that consisted of Gowanda-area players: Bob Lennertz, Tim Bobsein, Eric Schauer, Brad Homan, Ed Prince, Tom Cain, Jon Phillips and Jim Vogtli. They were a successful team and brought that experience and talent to Gowanda. Many of those same players would find their way onto the Shorty's Tavern team in the first year of the Gowanda league. That team would also go on to defeat Sweda's Grille in August of 1974 to win the first league championship.
But other young players soon evolved and the league became quite competitive in 1975-80. Included in that list of top players were Willy Kota, Vic Kubasiak, Jim Smith, Greg and Dale Rogan, Pete and Doug Preston, Tom Paulucci, Rusty Doxtater, Dana Jolls, Mike Cassidy, Garry and George Nelson, Gary Richardson, Paul Evans, Joe Press, Dan Elvin, Keith and Kevin Schindler, Rob Chmiel, Gary Korbar, Kevin Regan and Rob Gaylord. In the early '80s, Gowanda added even more talent to their rosters such as Cliff Wheeler, Gary Bartlett, Doug Capozzi, Don Kuligowski, Joe Gernatt, Dave Cole, Dave Farley and Tony Lavelle. Not only was the Gowanda league thriving with excellent games, many of these same players were playing on tournament teams both locally and out of town and winning cash prizes.
Shorty's Tavern was the first team to be recognized outside of Gowanda for their good tournament teams. Capella Farms soon followed. Both teams even combined for a Labor Day tournament in Springville on Sept. 3,4 5 in 1975 and beat every team by more than 10 runs. Before long, some of the best players in the league were asked to join top out of town teams for the biggest tournaments of the season.
But of all the tournaments that were played from 1978 through 1988, none was more prestigious than the Stroh's tournament held at Buffalo's Houghton Park each Labor Day Weekend. Seventy-two teams would converge for the three-day event. Many of the Gowanda players competed and were part of several championship teams at the last official tournament of the summer. When the Labor Day weekend was over, so was the hottest sport in Western New York until the following spring.