More than 40 years after the Breslau Merchants won their 15th league championship, the team is set to be inducted into the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.
On May 15, the darlings of the North Waterloo Rural Softball League – which ran for 60 years starting in 1931 and was the oldest continuous organized softball league in Canada – will be recognized at a gala event at the Doon Heritage Crossroads Museum.
The highlight of the team’s history was their decade-long run of league titles that began in 1951.
They also won the title in 1945, 1948, 1971, 1972 and 1978.
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“The longevity of the team and its local prominence as a bona fide team for all those years, plus all the success they had over the years, was the main reason they were chosen for recognition this year,” said John Thompson, chair of the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.
More than 400 members have been named to the hall since it began in 1972 to honour local athletes before expanding to include other members of the community as well. There are 14 members on the sports committee who either nominate members of the public themselves, or consider nominations from the community.
Nominees are considered for three years and if they are not inducted after that, they have to be re-nominated. There is also a separate committee that considers all non-sporting related nominations.
The North Waterloo Rural Softball Leagu began in 1931 with only five teams, and Breslau joined the following year. According to the North Waterloo Rural Softball League rules, all players on the team had to either reside or be employed in the community for which they played as of May 1 of the upcoming season.
The team was called the Merchants for their Breslau sponsors, led by Roy Schiedel who was the owner of Schiedel’s General Store and contributed to the costs of the uniforms, travel and other gear.
“I was just a teenager when I started, and I was farming at the same time and raising a family,” said Robert Mader, a utility player and pitcher for the Merchants during their 10-year championship run. “We were just a bunch of guys that gelled together and we seemed to know how to win,” he laughed.
“When we were winning it five, six, seven years in a row, even the umpires were a little against us. You know what it’s like when a team wins all the time, they want to see someone else take it over.”
It was a different league back then, Mader continued, saying that the “outlaw” league permitted lead-offs for base runners, used 60-foot base paths instead of the 45-foot paths used today, and the hidden-ball trick was also permitted.
The fact that players had to work or live in town meant that family members typically played together and formed the nucleus of the squad, and that was no different for the Merchants. Orval Mader – Robert’s cousin – was the team’s catcher throughout its championship run.
“It was wonderful, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world,” Orval said of his time with the team.
He joined the team just one year prior to their string of 10 straight league victories.
“It’s great to be a winner. I enjoyed it immensely.”
There are still about 23 members of the team remaining to this day, and while most of them have lost contact over the years, both men hoped that they could use the induction ceremony as a reunion of sorts.
“It only happens once in a lifetime,” said Robert.
Other inductees into the Hall of Fame this year include Mel Brown, Ray Alviano, Lorna Bergey, Peter Brill, Stan Deckert, Garnet Koehler, Katherina Kubenk, Rabbi Philip Rosenweig and the University of Waterloo’s 1974-75 men’s basketball team.
The Breslau Community Centre will also honour the Merchants’ induction with a steak-fry on June 11 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $16 – free for any former members of the team – and there is a limit of 200 people. For more information call 519-648-2469 or 519-648-2332.