High school softball was in its infancy during the 1970s. The 1977 DeWitt softball team didn’t know the heights it could reach.
There wasn’t a softball state tournament until 1975. And from 1973 to 1975, Panthers coach Debbie Hancock — formerly Debbie Boyd — struggled just to find teams to play.
But as the sport grew, DeWitt quickly rose to the top. And in the summer of ’77, the Panthers became the first Lansing-area school to win a state softball title.
The championship team will be one of three teams and nine individuals inducted into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame on July 30.
“None of us realized the (significance) at that time,” said Hancock, whose team defeated Center Line St. Clement, 12-5, in the Class C title game. “We were just playing the game, enjoying the wins and moving on to the next game.
“As I look back at it, it’s an awesome honor to think we were the beginning. When I became the coach, I had just come from college and there wasn’t anything like that. There just wasn’t girls sports like there is now.”
During the regular season, DeWitt finished second to Mason in its conference. Hancock believes not winning the league title was the turning point in the Panthers’ season.
“In hindsight, it was a disappointment for all of us to lose the conference title, but it contributed to us winning the state championship,” she said. “It was a reality check. We had been winning and winning, and (it was like) they couldn’t lose.
“It changed the way we played the game.”
DeWitt made a statement in its first-ever state tournament appearance. After defeating Whitmore Lake, 3-2, in 12 innings in the first round of regionals, the Panthers breezed their way through the finish line.
“Whitmore Lake had Jo Longanecker, and she was the fastest windmill pitcher we’d seen at the time,” said Beth Willard, who played left field as a junior on the championship team. “Once we beat them we had a taste of what it could it be. We knew it would be special after that. We whipped everyone.”
To this day, the Panthers’ 1977 team keeps in touch. They refer to themselves as the “Legacy of the Sisterhood,” and 15 of the 16 members will be present during the induction ceremony.
“We come from a small community,” Willard said. “I’ve known these girls most of my life. In DeWitt, you went to the same junior high, the same middle school. … We all went to school together for a long time. We played summer ball together. We just wanted to play.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.
GREATER LANSING SPORTS HALL OF FAME
• When: 5 p.m., July 30
• Where: Lansing Center
• Tickets: $35 per individual, $280 for table of eight and can be purchased at lansingsportshalloffame.org
• Hall of Fame class: Chuck Block (Lansing Community College track/cross country), Jesse Gallegos (boxing), Fritz Kellerman (Sexton/University of Michigan wrestling), Scott Kemp (Grand Ledge/Eastern Michigan baseball), Andy Simmons (Williamston/MSU wrestling), Nick Simmons (Williamston/MSU wrestling), Stephanie Smiley (Holt/Eastern Michigan basketball), Kim Spalsbury (DeWitt/Fowler/Grand Ledge cross country/track), Jamie Wesley (Morrice/MSU basketball), 1960 Haslett football team, 1977 DeWitt softball team, 1979 Lansing Eastern boys golf team.
• Richard Letts Community Service Awards: Larry Cockroft, Judge George Economy
• Hall of Fame sponsors: Magic Johnson Enterprise, Dean Transportation, Auto Owners Insurance, Applegate Home Comfort, Dan Henry Distributing