'Love of the game'

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

Some things never change.

Women now have greater opportunities in sports but Joan French will never lose the love of the game.

"We had so much fun and got so close," said the 69-year-old, the long-retired coach of the senior A Trimac Tires women's softball team.

In fact, after an intial run from 1968 to '72, she retired twice and went back to her job on the bench.

"I went back in 1975 and then again in 1985 to coach the girls as a masters team," said French.

And today, she and her players will be honoured at the Calgary Women's Fastpitch Association's annual tournament. It's been 50 years for the CWFA, which recognizes Trimac Tires as one of Calgary's greatest women's teams.

And French as one of its greatest coaches.

Known as the Sparky Anderson of Calgary softball, she commanded respect throughout the ranks.

"Sparky? Well, I had a few discussions over the years with umpires," she said, laughing. "Back in those days, I knew the rule book from the front cover to the back cover.

"Most of the arguments aren't on the technical side, it's on the interpretation side. We used to have some real heated discussions.

"I can't remember ever getting kicked out of a game but I think I came close."

French ranks that team as "one of the better teams around," noting she's travelled to tournaments in the U.S. and to some world championships for proof.

"I think we had one that would have been up there," said French, who was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in 1984. "As they say in sports, there's a lot of talent but there's a bit of luck, too.

"A few championship games, if we had had the ball bounce a different way, we would have won instead of second best."

The squad, which will be inducted into Softball Alberta Hall of Fame team category in October, featured Brenda McNeill, a Canadian all-star second baseman and top batter at the nationals. And Jan Leinweber, a top pitcher at the Canadians and member of the Softball Alberta Hall of Fame.

"Jan ended up playing with Saskatoon at the worlds in Osaka, Japan," French recalled."They beat us one year and they took her to Japan.

"When the windmill came out, we didn't have too much of it here in Alberta. Jan was one of the first to throw it in women's ball here."

But French is hesitant to pick an all-star on any teams.

"Each one of them was so important to the team, Iwouldn't select an all-star and say this player we rely on," she said. "The team was young and the girls came from different areas, different backgrounds. They had the enthusiasm to play and compete.

"It was a big plus for me as a coach to see the girls improve through the years. That's why I stayed with it."


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