The Florence Chicks Were One Of Ontario’s Most Feared Teams
In the village of Florence, just outside the Chatham-Kent boundary, there’s church, and cemetary. A pizza place, and a post office. It’s nestled along the Sydenham River, connecting the village downstream to Dresden and Wallaceburg.
It’s a quiet town that brings friends and family visitors to the main street, but does not have the draw of other centres in the area.
In the 1950s however, it was a hub of activity, and the town, through sport, was connected to Chatham-Kent, specifically Wabash, Thamesville and Bothwell through the Florence Chicks.
The Chicks were a dominant softball team, playing many of their home games in the aformentioned Chatham-Kent towns. Travelling into bigger cities including Sarnia, Stratford, Windsor, Toronto, Sudbury, and Detroit, the Florence Chicks were most likely underestimated, until the second the first pitch was thrown.
If they were fielding, that pitch was likely a strike. If they were at the plate, the unsuspecting pitcher may have had to quickly crane their neck to watch a deep drive head out into the field.
In 1954, Florence won the Ontario Intermediate Softball Championship defeating Sudbury in Bothwell in the final series.
In 1956, the Florence Chicks were champions of the Big Four Ladies Fastball League. The team secured that win using Wabash Park in Wabash as their home field. The star of the Chicks that season, and in years to come was Bothwell’s Mae Brearley. Brearley won the R.J. Sussex Trophy, which recognized her as the player with the top batting average in the 1956 season
The following season, Florence again found themsevles in the Big Four final, but this time bowed to Stratford.
The penultimum of the Florence Chicks reign in the 1950s however, came in 1959, when the Florence Chicks were unstoppable locally, and carried that success on to a Provincial title, winning the Ontario Senior ‘A’ Fastball Championships.
Throughout the 50s, the Chicks featured many notable players including Brearley, Norma Tinline, Shirley Bodkin, Mary Foster, Dorothy Markowsky, Jessie Coutts, Pat Gorman, Marion Knowles, Tommy Kramer, Betty Armstrong, Eileen Ferris, Gloria Aitcheson, Aubrey Robertson, Jean Wilson, Marge Bateman, Jean Phair, Pat Belliveau, Kay Osborne, Maude McDonald, and Bonnie Stephens.
When the 1960s rolled in, the era of the Florence Chicks came to an end, but Doris North and Wilbert North, two of the driving forces behind the team refused to let fastball die in Florence. They soon had a youth program up and running with over 70 participants.
While it’s a quiet town today, the crack of the bat, and the cheers of fans were roaring in the 1950s.
Over a half a century later, the Chicks were honoured as inductees into the Dresden Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and they’re still talked about as one of the greatest fastball teams Ontario has ever seen.