If You Can’t Beat Them Then Merge With Them

14 Mar

Part VI

Charles Bell actually created two Le-Al-Co’s, and those who knew about one did not always know about the other. The Le-Al-Co that has been described was Bell’s business, but the other Le-Al-Co, a softball team, was his hobby. Bell ran his team with the same drive for success and enthusiasm that he ran his business.

Bell’s involvement in softball began in the 1960s when he sponsored a fast pitch team made up of men from Lebanon and the surrounding area. Most of their games were played locally, but Bell wanted to treat the players to a vacation and an experience they would not forget. He scheduled a double-header with the Clearwater Bombers of Florida, a team that had a two-year winning streak and was considered by most to be the best in the world. Shockingly, Le-Al-Co defeated the Bombers 1-0, in what could be the greatest upset in the Bomber’s history.

Obviously, Bell had a successful fast pitch team, but the players decided to try slow pitch, a new version of the sport. Le-Al-Co won its first slow pitch tournament and began a new course. Bell partnered with Allen Skeen to build a team designed to compete in the new sport. Soon, the Le-Al-Co Storms, named after storm doors and windows, were dominating the local competition with players such as Ray “Pop” Nixon and Alex Buhler.

In 1974, Bell and Skeen realized that to reach the ultimate goal, a state championship, new players needed to be added to the roster. Skeen recruited Mac Stalcup, a Knoxville player, to move to Lebanon and join the team. With Stalcup inserted into a strong lineup, Le-Al-Co defeated the nation’s top ranked team to win the state championship. This began a string of state championship that would eventually total ten, the most of any sponsor in Tennessee history.

Through the 1970s Bell and Skeen continued to pick up players from around the state to replace the local ones. Simply, when they saw a player that they liked they would ask his team’s sponsor if they wanted to merge. When an agreement was reached, they would cut the sponsor and keep the player they wanted. Bell and Skeen often said, “If you can’t beat them then merge with them.” Through this method Le-Al-Co won more games than any team in Tennessee history.

Le-Al-Co’s renown reached past the borders of Tennessee, as the team was consistently ranked in the nation’s top ten and was one of the original teams to be classified in the Super level. This distinguished Le-Al-Co as one of the top five teams in the nation. With its victories and the SuperStorm emblem on the uniforms, Le-Al-Co became one of the most popular teams in the nation.Ring Pictures 002

Softball was also a family affair as the hobby was shared with Charles and Elaine’s youngest son, Rick Bell. He spent the summer weekends of his childhood traveling to tournaments with his father and looking up to the players. As Rick got older, he took on more responsibility and eventually became the bookkeeper and assistant coach. When his father stopped sponsoring a team, Rick continued to coach nationally ranked teams. Despite these accomplishments, a memorable story took place during Rick’s childhood. As Le-Al-Co played on a Saturday night and into early Sunday morning, Rick, refusing to go to bed, leaned on his knees and fell asleep standing up.

After a brief hiatus, Bell sponsored the Le-Al-Co SuperStorms for the last time in 1991. The team finished second in the nation, and the roster included Bruce Meade, possibly the most famous player in slow pitch history. He joined Stalcup, who had played for all but one Le-Al-Co squad since 1974. Le-Al-Co’s success on the field led to Bell’s induction into the Tennessee ASA Softball Hall of Fame in 2010.

6 Responses to “If You Can’t Beat Them Then Merge With Them”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What Happens When a Settler Says, “Look At All Those Cedar Trees.” | Surrounded By Imbeciles - August 24, 2013

    […] played there, but it was built for a different purpose. Years ago my dad sponsored a professional softball team, and he had the field built as a home park. Everything was donated, but some government agency […]

  2. The Yard Dog Award – Lodging Fit for a King | Surrounded By Imbeciles - March 29, 2014

    […] the mid-1990s, I was coaching a professional men’s softball team. That, in and of itself, is another story that I have touched on and will write about in the near future. However, this post is about a place […]

  3. Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams | Surrounded By Imbeciles - May 27, 2014

    […] I have written before, my dad used to sponsor one of these teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. I grew up traveling with his players and learning the rules of the road. For that reason, Sandy […]

  4. Museums, Memorials, Steaks and Some College Football | Surrounded By Imbeciles - September 16, 2014

    […] left that museum with the intention of visiting the ASA Softball Hall of Fame. My dad is in the Tennessee Hall of Fame, and we know several people who are enshrined in the national one. Unfortunately, it is closed on […]

  5. The Boys of Summer | Surrounded By Imbeciles - April 3, 2015

    […] write those words because my dad sponsored one of those teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was one of the best teams in the country. The men on the team played […]

  6. On the Road with the Phoenix | SBI: A Thinning Crowd - April 24, 2018

    […] at the ballpark. I have written about my days growing up around professional softball – my dad’s team; the ballparks; and the […]

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