Players at the Women Lawyers vs. Judges charity softball game. Photo via fb.com
Women from the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan will take on female and male judges from the area during a charity softball game being held at Fifth Third Ballpark on Saturday.
The annual softball game is celebrating its 30th year this year, having been started by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan in 1983.
“The idea was let’s do something fun — it wouldn’t be really competitive . . . but do a charity event for the YWCA, because the Women Lawyers Association had already been associated with the YWCA,” Chief Judge Sara Smolenski said, recalling how the charity softball game got its start.
“It was a theme near and dear to everybody’s heart," she said. "Everybody wanted to support helping women and children who were disadvantaged in the community. The YWCA had some programs already, they needed our support and the Women Lawyers emerged into this charity fundraising softball game where every year the YWCA, the Domestic Crisis Center and the Child Abuse Sexual Treatment Center has been part of the beneficiary of that.”
Emily Green, an attorney with Rhoades McKee, added, “I think what it comes back down to is that part of the mission of WLAM is to perform charity work in our community and provide a forum for addressing the legal and social issues that impact women. So the focus here is the benefit to the YWCA — and it’s a secondary benefit to the legal community, and the women lawyers in particular, that they have an opportunity to interface with the judges in such a fun setting.”
Taking the field
The game is so popular and well loved that neither team has trouble finding players to take the field each year, and there are many players who have participated for years.
Smolenski is one of those returning players and has played in all but one of the games since the event began. She started out on the Women Lawyers Association team before her career led her to her current position with the 63rd District Court and, therefore, becoming a player on the judges' team.
She is one of five women judges competing on the team this year and said that there have never been enough women judges to field a whole team, but the male judges are glad to come out and play.
“The judges look forward to it every year,” Smolenski said.
Players for the judges’ team come from Kent, Ottawa, Allegan and Barry counties for the annual game.
Smolenski credits several factors for the longevity of the event: tradition, the unique opportunity for the lawyers and judges to meet outside of the more serious courtroom environment, the camaraderie the event creates and that it is just plain fun.
Carol Irons Trophy
The game really hit home in 1988, when District Judge Carol Irons, the first woman judge to be elected in Kent County and the only women judge on the judges’ team for the first few years, became a victim of domestic violence herself. She was shot and killed by her estranged husband.
“We never thought we would have one of our colleagues involved as a victim of domestic violence,” Smolenski said. “It brought to bear the fact that domestic violence crosses every socio-economic barrier. It’s not just women in poverty or one racial group, people can be the product of domestic violence that come from very well-known, affluent families. They can be people with wonderful jobs and high education.”
Following Irons’ death, the Carol Irons Trophy was introduced. The winning team receives the trophy to display for the year, and the charity event continues to raise money to support domestic violence programs.
Green said that the annual event has raised $200,000 to date for the YWCA.
Christina McDonald, who is the event’s chair this year, said that fundraising in 2012 was a banner year and 2013 is not far behind.
The game’s change of venue also highlights the growth of the event.
It was originally played at local parks, but in the last decade, as attendance outgrew those fields, it moved to Fifth Third Ballpark and is played as a doubleheader with a Whitecaps game.
“Fifth Third Ballpark is an extremely generous partner,” McDonald said. “Not only do they let us use their field for our game and help coordinate game-day logistics, they also have contributed to the cost of the food that we use for our game-day eating contests between law enforcement officials, which also benefits the YWCA.”
Green noted that each year tickets are purchased and donated to the YWCA, so that women involved in YWCA programs are able to bring their children to the game and enjoy the doubleheader — an opportunity that is a first for many of the families.
This year, the judges will take the field with a three-game winning streak, and Smolenski said she is expecting a “four-peat” and for the trophy to remain on display in the Hall of Justice.
McDonald, however, thinks the women lawyers might take back the trophy this time around, saying their hunger for a win is possibly even greater than the law enforcement officials who will be participating in the hot dog eating contest.
“The judges can prepare themselves to walk away from the field with their heads hung in shame,” McDonald said. “2013 is the beginning of a new era in crushing victories for the women lawyers.”
To purchase tickets contact McDonald at cmcdonald at dickinsonwright dot com, (616) 336-1039 or purchase tickets directly from the YWCA online.