Leagues’ Early Days Began in ’71

Posted May 19, 2009 at 4:27pm

Howard Gorrell was an enterprising college student interning for the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1971 when he had an idea that would continue to influence staffers’ summer social lives today: the House Interoffice Softball League.

With two other staffers, Gorrell, now 64, set up what he says was the first House softball league. It followed an informal practice of certain offices calling other offices to see whether staffers were available to, in so many words, come out and play.

Gorrell lived with Rep. Clarence “Bud— Brown Jr. (R-Ohio) that summer and played with the team from his office. The Budmen won the league championship that year, he remembered, with the help of center fielder Larry Graham, now 65, who serves as president of the National Confectioners Association.

Graham, who is the father of actress Lauren Graham, best known for her role as Lorelai Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls,— was a single father. That role meant that sometimes he had concerns other than fielding when he was in the outfield. He would drive back to Northern Virginia after work, pick his daughter up from school and bring her back to the field.

“She would sometimes sit next to me in the outfield,— he recalled, adding that he was more worried about protecting her than catching the ball.

Graham noted that there were multiple reasons the Budmen were particularly competitive. One was his boss’s recruiting efforts.

“He got a couple guys who were back then elevator operators in the Capitol. Some of them had played semi-pro baseball, so we really had a team of ringers,— he said.

The league originally had few written rules. Graham remembered that each team was required to have three women playing, and a woman had to pitch.

In 1971, there were two divisions. Division A was set aside for more competitive teams, while Division B was reserved for teams more focused on socializing.

“In the Division B game, you can bring a can of beer with you to the field and put it on the ground next to you,— Gorrell wrote in an e-mail. “But you should not bring a can to a field of the Division A game.—

Even without many rules, some elements of the league fell into the only-in-Washington category. In true Congressional fashion, Brown took to the floor of the House to celebrate his team’s blowout victory over the winners of a Senate league in September 1971.

“I take this moment to express my congratulations and appreciation to the members of my staff and others employed by this body and elsewhere who played under my sponsorship in the House Interoffice Softball League and who won that league last week. Then last night this same team won, 30 to 2, a game with a team from the office of Senator Philip Hart of Michigan and thus secured the championship of Capitol Hill,— he said, according to the Congressional Record.

Since his time as a leader of the softball league, Gorrell has continued to stay active in both sports and politics. He worked with then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on a provision concerning disabled athletes in the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 and maintains a friendship with the former Senator.

Having been born deaf, Gorrell has become an ambassador of sorts for deaf athletes. He was on the lacrosse team at Ohio University and first came to Washington, D.C., in 1968 to practice at what was then called Gallaudet College for the 1969 World Games for the Deaf, where he would throw the javelin and the hammer. In his free time, he had his first political internship in the office of Rep. Charles Whalen Jr. (R-Ohio).

He has stayed involved in what is now called the Deaflympics ever since, most recently overseeing the American tennis team. He also served on the Handicapped in Sports Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1979-81.

To this day, Gorrell remains involved in political issues. On Tuesday, he drove from his home in Pennsylvania to Annapolis, Md., to take his place next to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) as he signed into law a provision reforming child support Gorrell had backed.

Even decades later, after many years at the Deaflympics and more political battles as a Republican staffer, Gorrell still considers playing softball those summers as among his best memories.

“Playing congressional softball is the GREATEST thing to do on the Hill!— he wrote in an e-mail.