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Lawyers relax and find camaraderie in softball league of their own

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On a hot Thursday evening, pitcher Jeff Mendes tries to rally his team as they take on their seasoned opponents, the Pokers.

“All right, gentlemen, let’s go – let’s get some runs here,” Mendes says as his teammates enter the dugout for their turn at bat.

Mendes, a solo attorney, plays for the Coots Henke & Wheeler P.C. team in Lawyer League softball, an annual summertime league that has existed for more than 30 years in central Indiana. This season, nine teams face off every Thursday evening at Chuck Klein Softball Complex in Indianapolis. Team members include veteran attorneys, law students, mid-career associates and non-lawyers.

While the teams play for fun, it’s clear that the players take competition seriously.

Team development

Interest in the Lawyer League has waxed and waned over the years. In the 1980s, the league had more than 30 teams.
 

il-softball01-15col.jpg Coots Henke & Wheeler player Jeff Mendes pitches to Brandon Ehrie, an attorney for Lewis Wagner who plays for the Pokers. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Brandon Ehrie, of Lewis Wagner, started playing in the league four years ago. A member of the Pokers – led by team manager Robert Ebbs of Glaser & Ebbs – Ehrie explained how today’s rosters are different than they used to be.

“The league was struggling a bit when I started; it’s my understanding that at one point, it was huge. There were a number of teams mainly broken up by firms … I think that it dwindled a bit, which is how we ended up with these potpourri teams,” he said.

The Pokers’ roster is made up of lawyers from multiple firms, along with recent law school graduates. And Ebbs said only one player is new to the roster this year – recent law school graduate Scott O’Neil, who hit a three-run homerun in the first inning against Coots Henke & Wheeler.

Matt King manages the Frost Brown Todd Lone Wolfs, which has four women on the roster – a departure from the norm in the Lawyer League.

“We just open our team up to anybody at the firm, and we’ve always had pretty good participation from the females in our firm,” King said. While the Lone Wolfs have more women playing than any other team in the league, other female players do participate.

Frost Brown Todd LLC attorneys and employees account for about two-thirds of the roster, with the other third made up of lawyers or law students from outside the firm.

To prepare for the Lawyer League, the team participates in a spring non-lawyer softball league. And if you’d like a humorous look at the team’s progress, check out the Lone Wolfs Twitter handle – @lonewuffs – which King said was created by “somebody on our team who will remain nameless.”

One recent tweet reported: “Alaska has 11,000 Wuffs. We have 9-14, depending on the week.”

The rules

The Lawyer League rules require that at least five “lawyers” – which includes lawyers, legal professionals, law students and recent law school graduates – be on the field at one time. Teams that cannot find enough “lawyers” to field a roster can fill out rosters with non-lawyers, although the rules state that “the non-lawyer shouldn’t be appreciably better than the rest of the team.”

The intent of that rule is to make sure there are no “ringers” – although King said, “everybody has a few; they’re just lawyer-ringers.”

Whether Ehrie – who played baseball, basketball and football in high school – is a ringer is up for debate. The same is true for Lewis Wagner LLP colleague Ryan Vershay, who played baseball growing up. Vershay plays for the Coots Henke & Wheeler team.

Games last one hour or seven innings. During game play, a batter who makes it to first base may call for a teammate “runner” to take his place.

Teamwork and camaraderie

A Coots Henke & Wheeler batter steps up to the plate and sends the ball low and far into the outfield. He ambitiously rounds first base, then second, and narrowly misses being tagged out before landing squarely on third base.

Serving as first-base coach, team manager Jim Wheeler turns to the other players in the dugout and says, “Let’s be careful, with nobody out.” Wheeler suggests a conservative approach – going for a safe double instead of a risky triple.softball-schedule.gif

Throughout the game, the players for Coots Henke & Wheeler and the Pokers show the kind of quiet intensity and communication one would expect from full-time athletes. They shout encouragement to one another and demonstrate machine-like coordination in throwing the ball from the outfield to the infield and to home plate.

Vershay said playing softball offers a different, more relaxed setting in which to develop connections with other attorneys.

“(With) golf, you’re typically restricted to your four-man crew, and generally, it’s people you already know,” he said.

Ehrie also appreciates the relaxed vibe.

“It’s a different sort of dichotomy when you have an opportunity to be able to speak with your peers in a more informal context than the different social meet-and-greets through the IndyBar or the Indiana bar events. You get to see your peers in a little more light-hearted, fun and competitive atmosphere.”

Competition and rivalries

Ebbs sees the Coots Henke & Wheeler team and The Mudsharks – last year’s playoff champion – as the Pokers’ chief rivals in the Lawyer League.

The Lone Wolfs consider the B8zims to be their rivals. And the Wolfs are a bit puzzled by that name.

“We’ve never been able to figure it out, we’ve asked the guys, and they won’t say,” King said.

A.J. Deer, projects coordinator for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, is co-manager for the office’s team, the Terryers – aptly named for prosecutor Terry Curry.

The team’s goal is simple: “We always shoot for the judge’s team,” Deer said of Coots Henke & Wheeler’s squad. “We are 4-and-1 right now, so we are battling for the top spot.”

Marion Superior Judge Grant Hawkins refers to himself as “the guy in charge of making sure we have enough players” for the Coots Henke & Wheeler team. But he’s obviously much more than that in the eyes of his fellow softball enthusiasts. Hawkins has played in the Lawyer League continuously since he was a law student in 1973, and when he talks about the league, his passion for the game comes through in his voice.

Hawkins’ softball season doesn’t end in August. He keeps playing in a “fall-ball” league where he and Ehrie are on the same team and compete against non-lawyers.

Good sports

“Fudge,” Mendes says, returning to the dugout after a tough inning. That’s about the saltiest language overheard in the game against the Pokers.

The players seem respectful of their opponents and officials, with plaintiff lawyers and defense attorneys peacefully coexisting on the diamond, having a good time.

“It’s just fun,” Hawkins said. “I think if you talk to the referees, they’ll say, ‘They’re lawyers, but they’re not jerks.’”•
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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