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Softball pioneer

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Players from the Indiana Silver Foxes with Earl Lambert in the black wheelchair.
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Earl Lambert’s plaque in Blue River Memorial Park.

By PATRICK MURPHY - For The Shelbyville News

Earl Lambert and friend Harold Cooper laced up their shoes and went door-to-door all across Shelby County in 1985. They were trying to invite men to play in their senior slow-pitch softball league.

Three decades and four years later, the league has continued. It was the first slow-pitch softball league in Shelby County.

“I actually never thought about how long it will last,” Lambert said. “Everybody seemed like they had a lot of fun. I’m not surprised. If you like softball, then you’re going to stay with it.”

When the league first started in 1985, Lambert and Cooper organized the teams at Kennedy Park. There were two leagues: one for 35-year-olds and one for 45-years-old. The first one played on Wednesday nights, while the latter on Monday nights.

For each of these leagues, Lambert and Cooper would rate players from 1-5 with five being the best. In the 45-year-olds league, there were 65 players. According to Lambert, the teams were even and the team who placed first wasn’t the team that won the tournament.

At 82-years-old, Lambert still watches people play softball from his black wheelchair, yearning for the good old days when he played with the Indiana Silver Foxes.

The Indiana Silver Foxes were a Shelbyville 55-and-older team. Lambert, George Lane, R.C. Brown and other guys would travel all around the country playing softball. Lane recalled Lambert having success in a tournament in 2010 in Pensacola, Florida.

“When we would go to Florida in the springtime, Earl was always one of our best hitters,” Lane said. “Earl was a quick starter and always our better hitter early.”

In another tournament, the Silver Foxes traveled to Dalton, Georgia for the Softball Players Association National Championships. Lane recalled they were down by eight runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Silver Foxes scored nine runs and won the championship. Lambert said he would never forget one of the best plays he made in this game.

“I was playing left field and I was running fast as I could for the ball,” Lambert said. “I looked up, saw the ball coming and I jumped as hard as I could. I caught it. I will never forget that. Everyone cheered for me. If I would have missed it, then he would have hit a home run.”

For his accomplishments and starting the first softball league in Shelby County, Lambert was honored with a plaque and a ceremony on May 6 at Blue River Park. R.C. Brown was one of the players who wanted to honor Lambert.

“I wrote a letter to the Parks Department and it was up to them to make a decision,” Brown said. “They were really anxious to do it, and we appreciated that. Because he was a founder and he should be recognized. When he and Cooper were doing this, they didn’t have all of this high-tech social media stuff. They had to knock on doors and hand out flyers. They had to put some work into it.”

The ceremony and the plaque took Lambert by surprise.

“Of course it meant a lot to me,” he said. “After all of this time, I have been away from it for several years. To come up with it now… it was really something. Because softball meant so much to me.”