Southern Tier Express Newsmagazine
by Terry Heslink
A Woman with a Cause
Luella Kye of Sinclairville is retiring after serving the sports of baseball and softball in many capacities.
“I’ve always lived the games,” says Luella. “When I leave next spring for Sunshine, North Carolina, I’ll be taking many good memories of the many nice people I’ve been associated with over the years.”
Luella has been instrumental in forming local girls’ softball leagues over the past couple of years. Even as she prepares to leave the area, she continues to work at getting more Chautauqua County girls’ teams enrolled in the new Babe Ruth Girls Softball leagues.
Luella got involved in girls’ softball after being approached about taking over the 13-15 Cassadaga league. Bob Wilson of Sinclairville was the president, but wanted to step down. Luella agreed to take the job – but on the condition that the league change some of their rules.
“I just couldn’t work with some of those rules,” laughs Kye. “They’d have to play my way or not at all!”
The first coaches’ meeting, held at the Sinclairville Fire Hall, started late due to a hurricane. It gave Luella a chance to stress the importance of punctuality.
That summer of 1983, the Cassadaga League hooked up with Little League, but wasn’t happy with some of the rules. An American Softball Association qualifying tournament was held at Sinclairville and one of the Falconer teams, along with Cassadaga, placed first and second, respectively. This earned them a trip to the regionals in Binghamton.
The next problem was how to earn money for the trip.
The youngsters held bake sales, sold items door-to-door, sponsored car washes and used other quick money-making ideas. In a week’s time, the Cassadaga kids earned the $1200 necessary to hire a bus to Binghamton.
The first team Cassadaga faced was Marlin, New Jersey – the team that went on to win the regionals.
“Even though we didn’t do well against them, I felt it was a good experience for the girls,” says Kye. “We had four goals for the team: to teach them the basics of the game, respect and the have fun. The last goal was winning. They learned a lot and gained a great many friends.”
After 1983 Luella decided to get the league set up with the Babe Ruth organization while also forming a Chautauqua County Girls Softball League. Two divisions were formed. The South Central Division was made up of champion Kwik Kopy of Jamestown, Sinclairville, Gerry, Stockton and South Stockton, plus Panama. Meanwhile, the Northern Division had champion Dunkirk, Silver Creek, Brocton and Forestville. In the 16-18 Division were pennant-winning Fredonia, Dunkirk, Cassadaga, and Forestville. At the conclusion of the season, a playoff between the all-stars of the 13-15 year olds (won by South Central) constituted the first registered upstate team for the New York State Girls Softball Tournament.
Luella became interested in sports while attending Cassadaga Valley Central School where she played softball, basketball, volleyball and field hockey. A year before graduating, she was asked to play summer competition for Koch’s Annies in Dunkirk, where she was stationed behind the plate.
Koch’s was a semi-pro traveling fast-pitch team that played in Erie, Buffalo, Toronto and Cleveland. In 1952 the Annies were Western New York champs, hosting the Mid-Atlantic tournament.
Luella made Grape Belt baseball League (now combined County-Grape Belt League) history when she became the first girl to perform in the league. Her dad, Floyd Baker, managed Stockton Hotel. From the time she was 12, Luella had been warming up pitchers between innings. One day, her dad decided to play her in the outfield.
“The guy I replaced wasn’t too happy,” remembers Luella. “The guys pitching were afraid of hitting me so I drew a lot of walks.”
Luella married Frank Kye and had daughters Terry and Cheryl. But having a family did not dampen her interest in sports. She went on to become a baseball umpire.
Luella says she had very little trouble as a woman ump, though there were times when kids’ parents would get irate and ask why she didn’t go home and cook supper for her husband. “If I’d had rabbit ears, I’d have been in trouble!”
Trivia buffs will be interested to know that Luella was the first woman umpire to be certified east of the Mississippi River. For a while, this distinction served as its only reward since Mrs. Kye found herself working for little or nothing those first few years.
Her umpiring career came to an end in 1979, 19 years after it started.
It stopped being fun, so that was the time to quit,” says Luella. “It got to be real work and players changed over the years. Besides, softball was easier to ump, with bases spaced at 60 feet rather than baseball’s 90 feet.”
Luella, while umpiring softball from 1979-1982, also got involved in the Western New York Fast Pitch League at Eden Legion Field. She and Leon Winterhalter, from Orchard Park, helped form the circuit, which is comprised of six teams. With help from Panama coach Debbie Palmer, Mrs. Kye pulled together a team called DeCeillo’s. On that team were youngsters from Panama, Dunkirk, and Fredonia.
With Luella departing, Linda Tilyou of Sinclairville is now the president of the 1985 Chautauqua County Girls babe Ruth Softball League. Marlene Beckman is the secretary, Pat Ackley, the vice-president, and Kathy Mikula, the treasurer.
In a few months we will be saying “so long” to a woman who has officiated over 1500 games over a 22 year span, been instrumental in launching several new sports leagues, including the new county-wide Babe Ruth Girls softball, coached our children and played both softball and baseball herself.
So long, Luella. May you continue leading a “grand slam” life in Sunshine, North Carolina.