Intergenerational softball team a hit at MCH
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
MILWAUKEE – Dorothy (Dode) Cook was a young girl and perhaps a bit of a tomboy when she spent steamy summer days on wooden bleachers cheering for her favorite baseball teams.
“I yelled at high school and college games, and I guess I have always been a bit enthusiastic,” she said. “I am crazy about baseball and was raised to be a Cubs fan. And as I had my kids, I became fans of the teams of the cities we lived in, such as Baltimore Orioles, Red Sox, and because I live in Milwaukee, I am a Brewers fan.”
Now, 87, Cook still gets into the game, screaming until her voice is raspy, but this time she is rooting for the Milwaukee Catholic Home softball team, made up of staff and a few residents of the retirement home, where Cook has lived for four years.
“I just love to go to the games and yell my head off,” she said. “It is a lot of fun and generally a bunch of us take a bus; I try not to miss any games.”
As one of a handful of the team’s cheerleaders, Cook admits that they aren’t as agile as the cheerleaders for major league teams are, but their enthusiasm and spirit more than make up for their slower movements.
“We don’t have too many creative cheers, and we aren’t too good at summersaults and things like that,” she admitted. “But we do have team T-shirts and enjoy having a team of our own and getting out to see games during the year. I am not sure how many members of the team know who I am by name, but they sure know my voice.”
Last year, Diane Krentz, a food service supervisor at MCH, created the team for ballplayers of all ages after witnessing the enthusiasm she received each Monday evening from the residents when she played softball in Brown Deer the past couple of summers.
“Some of the residents would drive their cars and come to watch me play, and cheer!” said Krentz. “Instead of the residents taking a field trip to see the Brewers, they boarded a bus to watch me play. You have no idea how great I felt to see these residents with walkers, wheelchairs and canes, carrying pom-poms; it was incredible.”
Because Krentz’s fans were so energetic, she and the MCH administrators created their own co-ed team, the only independent living home in the tavern league. About 20 staff members, ages 18-55 and from a variety of departments throughout the organization, play. Three of MCH’s residents and one non-resident serve as the team’s coaches.
Resident coaches are Jim Wudi, Jack Poehlmann and James “Gym” Kelley. At 85, Kelley enjoys having something to do in the evenings and being a part of the team.
“I am basically just an honorary coach, but it’s fun to go and watch them practice and see the staff doing different things,” he said.
While he wasn’t always a baseball fan, living in a baseball city has changed Kelley’s mind.
“I grew up in Pewaukee, in the village, and there wasn’t too much to do when I was growing up,” he said. “But then the Brewers came to town and I became a fan.”
Retired sports coach Bill Brandt never expected to be thrust back into the coaching arena at 81. A retired junior high coach, high school coach, Whitefish Bay athletic director and former commissioner for hiring at the North Shore Conference, Brandt was talked into helping the MCH team by his friend, Jack Poehlmann.
“Between Jack, Wudi, Diane and a few others, they said I should coach the team,” admitted Brandt. “I said, ‘Sure I would do it.'”
In preparing for their first game of the season, May 14, Brandt started working on concepts, such as rules, hitting, catching and running bases.
“I am having fun with it,” he said. “I also have the help of Fr. Chuck Keefe, who is the chaplain of MCH; he is the scorekeeper. So I think we are going to have a great season.”
According to Krentz, who plays first base, Fr. Keefe becomes quite involved in the games, oftentimes scolding the umpires for calls that he felt were unfair.
“He is great,” she said. “He really gets into the game and when Fr. Chuck showed up with a Bible in one hand and a scorecard in the other, it just took this team by surprise and they kept running with it.”
Krentz said the team has brought MCH closer together and boosted morale.
“Many of the team members are from different areas of the complex and we wouldn’t have known about each other if it hadn’t been for this team. In this community, we feel as popular as the Brewers do,” she said. “We didn’t win or lose every game last year, but with the cheering and yelling – they got us all riled up to want to win the games. Other teams hated us because we had so much support.”
Playing left field is a diversion for Laura Sadowski, who generally works behind the scenes as the marketing coordinator for MCH. Not only does she say that residents are rejuvenated by the experience, staff members are also growing closer.
“This is really positive for the work environment at MCH,” she said. “There are players from many different departments, and it’s nice to meet and become friends with MCH employees who I wouldn’t otherwise get to know. Many of our coworkers who do not play on the team come out every week to cheer us on as well.”
Residents often host their own tailgate parties by bringing hamburgers from local restaurants and their own beverages. The team hosts a picnic after the final game of the season.
MCH is a nonprofit continuing care retirement community for older adults. The residence, 2462 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, is a 126 unit apartment complex, and the health and rehabilitation center, has 122 private skilled nursing rooms, 29 assisted living apartments, intergenerational adult day programming, and specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care. The two buildings are connected via an underground walkway, which is also connected to St. Mary’s Hospital.