1966-1983 Tony's Wahzoos Women's Slowpitch

MY LIFE AS A WAHZOO
By Michelle (Armstrong) Foran


1967 TONY'S WAHZOOS SLOWPITCH TEAM
Pierce County Senior Girls Champions

Back row l. to r.: Nancy Craig, Teresa Kade, Patti (Vogel) Moffett, Karen (Hanson) Pelton, Sheila Samuelson, Nancy Goodwin, and Jan Chase.

Middle row l. to r.: Stephanie (Stilner) Pinard, Mary Hause, unknown and Gayle Hazen.
Front row l. to r.: Sandy (Hanson) Lucich, Meredith Fry, Lynda (Butt) Hodgkiss, Joanne McCaffrey, and unknown. 

 
My story about playing slow pitch with Tony’s Wahzoos is a huge chapter in my life.  It all started when my neighbor, Paulette Hoover, and I decided that we wanted to play slow-pitch.  We found out where there was a coaches meeting and then attended.  After listening carefully at the meeting we were still without a team to play on and somewhat daunted.  As we were leaving the building we overheard this lady say that they still needed players.  Paulette kept telling me to go over and talk to them and tell them that we needed a team to play on.  I didn’t want to go over there by myself so finally we both walked over together and talked to these people.  They did indeed need players and told us where the first practice would be.  We were so excited and couldn’t wait until the practice.  When the day finally came to practice we went to the gym.  I can’t remember where it was, maybe Wilson.  Anyway, of course, we didn’t know anyone.  The coaches had us all lying on the floor doing sit-ups, push-ups and a number of other exercises.  We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  We over heard some of the other girls talking and they weren’t too happy about all of the exercises either. Those girls, as it turned out, were Karen Hanson, Sandy Hanson and Linda Butt and probably a few others. As the months progressed and the weather improved we moved to outside practices.  This is where we really found out what we were made of. One year we were practicing in the snow.  Yes, the snow.  I thought we were professionals by this time except we didn’t know what half of the things the coaches were saying meant.  They would say tag up, take two, around the horn just to name a few phrases of this foreign language.  Paulette and I would practice at home all of the time.  I needed to strengthen my arm since I mostly played right field and center field.  We played tournaments all summer long every summer for as long as I can remember.  We had a core group of girls that were always Wahzoos and some that would come and go.  I believe that we were a well-respected team with some outstanding players.  It ended up that we played for Tony’s Wahzoos from that first year of inception to the last year that we played together as a team.  Some of the girls on the team have become life long friends and we still keep in touch and do things together.  When slow pitch was out of season usually the core group of girls would play the sport that was in season.  Basketball, volleyball and we even tried soccer but decided that was too much work. Tony Milan was our sponsor through all of the sports that we played.  He was a great sponsor and a great person.  I loved being a Wahzoo and some of my fondest memories were of those times.

 

ONCE AROUND THE PARKS
with Gary Lindgren
Published August 15, 1973-Tacoma Review newspaper

1973 TONY'S WAHZOOS SLOWPITCH TEAM

Back row l. to r.: Vickie Thompson, George Hilliard, Judy Alexander, Gayle Hazen, Michelle Armstrong, Kathy Sisko, Fran Wax, and Jeff Hilliard.
Front row l. to r.: TPaulette Hoover, Karen Hanson, Sandy Hanson, Patti Vogel, Lynda Butt, and Julie Christensen.

An over-all record of 56-5, three tournament championships, an un­defeated league slate and five most valuable player awards add up to a pretty fair seasons work.

That rather imposing list of ac­complishments has prompted many to pronounce Tony’s Wa-Zoo’s one of he city’s finest women’s slow pitch teams. The only drawback to that high rating is the team’s competing in the recreation, or “mush ball” leagues rather than the Western Washington “hardball” circuit.

Team members will wholeheartedly agree that they seek no comparison with the Western Washington league, nor do they have intentions of stepping out of the recreation class. They play the game for the fun of playing, and they do it quite well.

Team spokesman George Hilliard, who doubles as third base coach and has been with the team since its days in the girls’ softball program, leads the cheers for the Wa-Zoo’s. “This is the finest group of girls I’ve ever seen,” he says with pride. “They get along fine, they play to win and they enjoy what they’re doing. I’m as proud of them as I could be if they were my own girls,” he adds.

Hilliard points out that despite its many accomplishments, the Wa-Zoo’s are a team without a real “star. Probably the closest player to star billing is pitcher-coach Karen Hanson, husky blond who combines sharp pitching with a wicked bat and surprising speed.

Karen finished the season with an undefeated pitching record, two tournament most valuable player awards and three invitational all-star team selections. In the annual County­-City all-star game at the Sprinker Recreation Center, Karen collected three hits---two triples and a double--­and knocked in the winning runs in the city’s first win of the series. Is there any doubt why she earned the city’s MVP honor?

First baseman Patty Moffett also won two most valuable player awards in invitational tournaments and out-fielder Paulette Hoover on two select squads and third baseman Julie Christiansen, second baseman Sandy Hanson, centerfielder Michelle Armstrong and short fielder Kathy Sisko each were tabbed once for all­ star recognition.

In addition to capturing the city’s Metro League women’s title, the Wa-Zoo’s won the 2121 Tavern, Magoo’s Pub and Tacoma Invitational tournament titles---the latter for the second straight year---took second in the Joe Stortini Invitational and Yakima Hardball tourneys and came in third in the city’s pre-season tournament.

And the success story may only be starting. Next year the Metropolitan Park District’s Midgette girl’s championships will be designated as Tony’s Little Wa-Zoo’s.

 

TONY’S WAHZOOS STORIES
By Karen Hanson Pelton
YAKIMA TOURNAMENT MEMORIES

1974 TONY'S WAHZOOS SLOWPITCH TEAM 

Back row l. to r.: Barb Kuni, Karen Hanson, Kathy Sisko, Michelle Armstrong, Paulette Hoover, Judy Alexander, Jeff Hilliard, and George Hilliard.
Front row l. to r.: Shannon Heinrick, Sandy Hanson, Patti Vogel, Julie Christensen, Lynda Butt, and Fee (?).

In 1973 and 1974 the Tony’s Wahzoos slowpitch team played in the Rainier Beer Invitational Tournament in Yakima. Both years we played in these tournaments we lost our Saturday night games (too much sun, swimming, and refreshments at the Holiday Inn!). That meant we had to play six games to get to the championship game on Sunday and both years the Santos team from Renton won the title.

Even though these were the only times we ever played or saw Santos (they were an upper level team while we were a mushball team), when they were asked to play an exhibition game in Hawaii before a Hawaii Islanders Pacific Coast League baseball game, and most of their players could not go, they called our team and asked if any of us could join them. A few Wahzoos players went and to me that was just another compliment about our team—not just talent-wise but personality-wise.

I also remember when members of the Park Board in Yakima would bring us salt tablets and water as the temperatures soared into the 90’s on those long Sundays. We walked from field to field all day long and they just kept replenishing the tablets and water.

On the way from the Holiday Inn to the field for the first Yakima tournament in 1973 I (Karen Hanson) was leading the way and made a wrong turn. A cop pulled me over and I remember telling him that my team was following in a bunch of different cars and that he would probably be pulling all of them over, too!! Ha Ha Ha—one by one they all drove by. Thank goodness, no ticket!!

For most of us those Yakima tournaments were our vacations and all of our kids, boyfriends, fans, and sponsor Tony Milan and his family would stay at the Holiday Inn. Tony was almost always at every championship game—not only did he love all of the girls but he loved going to the middle of the field to accept the trophies which, by the way, were made of empty Rainier Beer cans.

STORY ABOUT SPONSOR TONY MILAN & BUFF’S TAVERN

Tony, being the good guy that he was (and still is), and realizing how hard it was for a family of eight to have money for their dental bills, made different payment arrangements with Buff, the owner of Buff’s Tavern. In this instance the payment plan was to just give the Wahzoo’s team 10 pitchers of beer after each of their ballgames and he’d call it even. Thank goodness for family and friends to help Buff pay his dental bill!!

ADDITIONAL SHORT RECOLLECTIONS

…….I remember winning the Little Jim’s Pub tournament, then dancing with players from the Little Jim’s Pub men’s slowpitch team until closing. Then it was off to the Towers Bowling Alley to bowl for breakfast—the men paid!!

……..There was a game where Paulette and Michelle came dressed to play ball in their old lady outfits—flowered hats and all!!

……..There was the game we played on Vicky Thompson’s 21st birthday and a signing telegram interrupted the game—not only singing but presenting her with flowers.

……..There was the tournament that Sandy pulled her hamstring but played not only Saturday but six games on Sunday. We lost the tournament but Joe Stortini had to present two MVP trophies because even though she was handicapped she outplayed us all!!

……..We had the greatest sponsor in dentist Tony Milan. Being girls and so fashion-conscious, we were always ordering new uniforms—he couldn’t say no! Being one of the most prominent dentists in Tacoma, girls from many other teams were his patients. They would tease him that every year we got new uniforms it seemed like they needed more dental work and so they kind of felt like they were buying the uniforms for us. One year we decided to give Tony a break and make our own uniforms. Imagine a room filled with sewing machines, a girls baseball team, and beer. Surprisingly enough they turned out okay.

……..There was a 2121 Tavern tournament and after we won we all went over to the tavern for the awards ceremony. One team member was not 21 and so we had to squeeze her in the middle and put a hat on her—we weren’t a very good influence—but we had fun.

……..We were famous for losing our Saturday night tournament games and having to spend Sunday playing 5-6 games to get into the championship game. We used to say that we always got our monies worth at tournaments. One year following the Joe Stortini Invitational tournament, it was so hot so some of us just walked across the street from Peck Field to the King Plaza Apartments where we proceeded to the diving board and jumped into the pool—cleats and all!!

-----The stories go on and on as the best group of friends and players spent many years together. So, to Uncle Tony and the Wahzoos I say “Thanks for the Memories!”

 

TONY’S WAHZOOS—THE REAL STORY

By Patti (Vogel) Moffett

Back row l. to r.: Sue Ray, Suzy Newman, Ardi Schrag, Sue Vincent, Phyllis Textor, Nora Underwood, Vicki Panzari, and Joyce Wolf (coach).
Front row l. to r.: Trena Page, Louise Rota, Alice Textor, Pat Kearney, Sandy Molzan, and Diane Irish.

 

If the true intent of playing the game is fun and companionship, Tony’s Wahzoos ranks in the upper echelon of all-time successes. For a span of two decades from 1966 to about 1987, sponsor Tony Milan (Uncle Tony was actually Karen and Sandy Hanson’s uncle—the rest of us just called him that) and his band of women wreaked havoc upon the area both with their play and their approach to the game.

According to the players, Uncle Tony was a fantastic sponsor, making sure that they never had to worry about the money it took to enter tournaments, bats, balls or uniforms. They played a lot of different sports over the years but he was always there to lend his support.

Over the years the team had the same core group with others joining our FUN from time to time..  Those teammates were - Karen Hanson, Sandy Hanson, Lynda Hodgkiss, Paulette Hoover, Michelle Armstrong, Vickie Thompson, Barb Kuni, Patti Moffett, Debbie Viafore, Gayle Hazen, Shannon Heinrick, Lynn Tallman, Fran Wax, Gretchen Kady, Kris Cady, Theresa Kady, Stephanie Stiltner, Nancy Jerkovich, Mary Hause, Nancy Goodwin, Dar Cartwright, Sandy Turnley, Judy Alexander, Cathy Ciscoe, Laurie Jones, Sheila Samuelson, Julie Christensen, Meredith Fry, JoAnn McAffrey, Cheryl Doton.

Tony’s Wahzoos was a self-proclaimed “excellent group of athletes who loved playing together – friends on and off the field of play.” In an article written by members of the team, they wrote, “Some may have thought of us to be irreverent, incorrigible, or underachieving, but we always played our hearts out.” That included the time they switched positions and batted from the opposite side of the plate in order to make sure they were allowed to continue playing games at Peck Field rather than being forced to go out to Sprinker and play in the top women’s league.

We had some great coaches over the years such as Jan Chase, Nancy Craig, Bea Kade, and Margaret Heinrick to name a few, but we drove them all crazy and finally  decided it was better for all if we coached ourselves. 

Some stories related by members of the team will likely never be matched by another collection of athletes. A Yakima hotel once kicked the team out because they thought the athletes were prostitutes. The team played against BJ’s All Stars on McNeil Island and used the inmates as umpires. “We were very intimidated and didn’t even want to get on base or coach our runners when we did.”

The level of athletic ability on the team was only surpassed by the athletes’ desire to have fun, as they participated in various sports ranging from slowpitch and modified fastpitch to basketball and volleyball. They even had one year of soccer that did not go so well, according to their recollections.

Various news clippings detail the athletic success of the Wahzoos on the field of play, as the team won the Joe Stortini Invitational Slowpitch Tournament and Tacoma Invitational Class “A” and “B” crowns, among other victorious tournament appearances.

In the words of the Wahzoos themselves, “When we look back, it is done with big smiles on our faces. We have friendships that have lasted forever. The only thing we regret is that we can’t remember more details, because those surely would lead to more fun memories!

“Once a Wahzoo, always a Wahzoo!”

Jan Chase (coach): Jan graduated from Stadium High School in 1951 and attended the University of Puget Sound for a year. She played for Spud’s Pizza Pete and McKnight’s Foods and coached the Wahzoos slowpitch team for quite a few years. During a lengthy playing career Jan won several batting crowns and is an accomplished bowler which led to her induction into the Greater Tacoma Women's Bowling Association’s Hall of Fames in 1997. Jan, who retired to Reno where she works for the Reno National Bowling Stadium, was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Hall of Fame for slowpitch in 2004.

Nancy Craig (player/coach): Nancy graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended the University of Washington in Seattle. She played outfield, pitched and coached for the Wahzoos and worked at Regence Blue Shield before retiring. She also coached the McKnight’s Foods slowpitch team that played in the Western Washington League.

Margaret Heinrick (player/coach): Margaret graduated from Stadium High School in 1950 and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. She enjoyed a successful fastpitch career starting at age 13 with the Lincoln Electric team and later pitched against the traveling Phoenix Queens and Her Court. After playing for Hollywood Boat & motor she switched to slowpitch and played for the Cage Tavern. Maggie eventually elected to go to play with the Tony’s Wahzoos team as a Player/Coach, offering her veteran experience to a very young group of athletes She worked as a teacher and coach for University Place Schools prior to her retirement.

Michelle (Armstrong) Foran: Michelle graduated from Lincoln High School in 1965 and attended Tacoma Community College and the University of Puget Sound. She played various positions for the Wahzoos from the time they formed until the team dissolved, and now works as a Para educator for the Tacoma School District.

Lynda (Butt) Hodgkiss: Lynda graduated from Wilson High School in 1969. She was an avid basketball, volleyball, fastpitch and slowpitch player and was a valued Wahzoos team member as she played virtually every position on the diamond for the Wahzoos. She works as a production manager for Alaffia.

Lynda shared that “playing for Tony’s Wahzoos was a great time in my life. Even when I think back today, I still laugh. We were like The Bad News Bears. Our team consisted of players with little or no experience compared to those that had been playing since grade school. That’s what made it so much fun as you never knew who would come through with a great play or hit and help win a game or tournament. I want to thank Uncle Tony Milan for his sponsorship and for my teammates for lasting friendships and fun. Thanks for the Memories!”

Dar Cartwright: Darlene graduated from Renton High School in 1964 and Washington State University. She played volleyball, basketball and slowpitch (for Spud’s Pizza Pete, Tony’s Wahzoos, and McKnight’s Foods) and spent 30 years at Mann Jr. High in Lakewood coaching track, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and softball. She lives in Lakebay, WA and is self-employed as a Mountainman Distributor.

Karen (Hanson) Pelton: Karen graduated from Wilson high in 1967 and pitched for the Tony’s Wahzoos teams for 15 years. She now works in the Puyallup School District.

Mary Hause
: Mary graduated from Wilson High School in 1969 and from Central Washington University in 1973. Mary was an original member of the Wahzoos team having started in 1966 and played right field before retiring upon her high school graduation.  She is a registered certified pediatric nurse at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

Mary recalled that, “The highlights for me were playing on a team with such incredible athletes! My favorite position was warming the bench while they played their hearts out! There were very few highlights that I can remember other than an occasional spectacular fly ball catch! I was luck the team didn’t fire me! The majority of the players for Tony’s Wahzoos were great athletes! I wasn’t one of those but I loved playing with them before, during and after the games.”

Gayle Hazen: Gayle graduated from Wilson High School in 1969 and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. She played shortstop for the Wahzoos and worked as a math and reading teacher in Tacoma until retiring in 2007. Her favorite Wahzoos memory are the good times they enjoyed at the Yakima tournaments.

Shannon Heinrick: Shannon graduated from Stadium High School in 1970 and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, as well as Western Washington University. She played slowpitch, volleyball and basketball for the Cloverleaf Tavern and Tony’s Wahzoos and worked as a coach and teacher for Tacoma Public Schools prior to her retirement. She is an active member of the Tacoma Athletic Commission and is a loyal crew member with the Tacoma Dragon Boat Association.

Nancy Jerkovich: Nancy graduated from Aquinas Academy in 1971. She played outfield and the corner infield positions for the Wahzoos and then continued her slowpitch career with McKnight’s Foods and B&I. She works in the commercial fishing and sales field and resides in Gig Harbor.

Laurie (Hunt) Jones: I played with these wonderfully talented girls for a few years and was awed by their extraordinary talent.  They could throw and hit so well and had such a grasp of the game.  Watching Sandy and Karen Hanson hit was so much fun--watching Gayle Hazen's quick arm was really something.  Lynda Hodgkiss was so tiny and yet so powerful and quick.  I continued to play softball until about eight years ago when I turned 50. The Wazoos had tons and tons of talent.  I often wonder how great they might have been with the coaching and knowledge that is out there now. And yet they excelled and enjoyed it--truly a love of the game.

Barb Kuni: Barb graduated from Wilson High School in 1969 and attended Tacoma Community College and Western Washington University. Barb played with the Wahzoos team throughout most of the ‘70s as a second baseman and catcher. She also enjoyed volleyball and basketball.  She works in accounting and lives in Grapeview, WA.

Barb said, “I remember having fun no matter which sport we were playing. We were a close team with many friendships that have lasted to this day—over 30 years. There were teams that thought we had TOO much fun and weren’t “serious” enough. I have to admit—there WERE those times However, it is probably one of the reasons that we were together for so many years.”

Stephanie (Stiltner) Pinard: Stephanie graduated from Wilson High School in 1969 and now works in food services for the Tumwater School District. Stephanie was an original member of the Wahzoos team and played three years as the team’s second baseman.

Stephanie shared that “Karen Hanson came up with the name 'Wah Zoos'—I can't even remember if it's 2 words or 1... but, apparently, she had good information that it meant 'shit' in Swahili....sooooo of course, we all just loved the name! We didn't even need to vote on it....I can't remember if we told our coaches what it meant....I know I didn't tell my folks....they would've been upset (at least my mom)...

Lynette Tallman: Lynette graduated from Peninsula High School in 1973. She played catcher for the Wahzoos during the ‘70s and works for Talmo, Inc., in Gig Harbor.

Sandy Turnley: “Sam” graduated from Stadium High School in 1957 and added a veteran presence during her years with the Wahzoos where she caught for the team. She also played catcher for the Cage Tavern that went to the nationals in 1965 and also played for Spud’s Pizza Pete and McKnight’s Foods over the years. “Sam” now works as a sales representative for Little Nickel News and resides in Lakebay WA.

Debbie Viafore: Debbie graduated from North Thurston High School in 1970 and the University of Puget Sound. She played shortstop for the Wahzoos from 1977-1983 and also played for Hank’s Tavern, Bimbo’s Restaurant and the Classic Restaurant during a 16-year career. Debbie is a Pierce County probation work crew chief.

Patti (Vogel) Moffett: Patti graduated from Wilson High School in 1969 and attended Tacoma Community College and Western Washington University. She played first and second base for the Wahzoos from 1967-1987 and now lives in University Place.

As a 20-year Wahzooer, Patti recalled, “Thinking back to our Wahzoo years always puts a smile on my face.  I can't remember much about records, averages and all-star selections, etc, but what I do remember is that - we always had fun, we were very competitive and won most of the time, we didn't practice much, we drove most of our coaches crazy, and again, we always had FUN.  We also made it to the Regionals in Idaho in 1985.

As a sophomore  (1966) at Wilson High School, playing quarterback of our Powder Puff football team, we beat the "senior women" for the first time in school history.  Wahzoos on that team were Lynda Hodgkiss, Theresa Kade, Stephanie Stiltner, Barb Kuni, and Nancy Goodwin.  The Wahzoos also played rec league basketball, volleyball, and one year of soccer (when the ball goes out of bounds WE have to go get it??!)  Again, we usually ended up near or at the top of our leagues.

I have played sports for as long as I can remember (actually longer than I can remember!).  One of my first coaches in baseball was my Dad.  I believe I was 6 years old.  Some future Wahzoos played our Fircrest Parks teams - Gayle Hazen, Nancy Goodwin, Gretchen, Kris &Theresa Kade to name a few. Mr. & Mrs. Kade also coached us. Girl’s sports in those years were not promoted like they are now--we were very fortunate to have parents and coaches involved. Without sports I probably wouldn't have met the fantastic circle of lifelong friends that I have today.