Wildbunch! Wildbunch! Wildbunch! was the chant started by a group of young men who spent their youth playing basketball and 16-inch softball, on the courts and diamonds at the neighborhood playgrounds, practicing good sportsmanship, and cultivating friendships that have lasted a lifetime. They lived on the 2600, 2700, and 2800 blocks of West Jackson, Adams, and Gladys Streets in Chicago.
The Wild Bunch softball team was created by the late Danny Weems and Christopher Barnett. In the late 70’s, the original name of the team was the Chargers, with black and gold uniforms, playing games at Holstein Park. Playing practice games against the police officers who lived near Holstein, they were constantly defeated, but continued to exhibit a good sense of sportsmanship.
By the year 1977, the team was ready to compete. Danny changed their name to the Wild Bunch after witnessing the camaraderie between the soldiers in the film The Wild Bunch. During triumphs and defeat, they continued to stick together and fight until the bitter end. As our captain, this was his vision for the Wildbunch. Even if we were losing, do not give up – PERSEVERE!
In 1979, the Wild Bunch chose to play in their neighborhood Garfield Park. All games were played back-to-back on the same diamond, and hundreds of fans, consisting of family, friends, and spectators were always lined up on the first and third base side to watch. They played as a team, persevered through injuries, and made it to the Championship their first year, but ultimately lost to the Outlaws.
1981 was their year – winning their first Softball championship against the Outlaws, with the fastest outfielders in the league. Speedy George Toney played center field, Clarence “Doc” English playedleft field, and Sylvester Toney played right field.
An outstanding pitcher, Clarence Wise, made a big difference by playing both defense and offense. A stellar infield consisted of Maurice Williams playing first base, Melvin Gilbert playing shortstop, Michael Burson playing third base, Benny York playing short center, Lewis King playing second base, and team captain, Danny Weems, played back catcher. Kudos to Bobby Alcorn on his outstanding performance during the game!
On weekends, they played in Garfield Park and in LaFollete Park, Franklin Park, and Maywood Park during the week. Garfield Park was still the home park and they continued to win the Championship game there. The late Benny York was known for his tenacity and enthusiasm, and whenever he came to the plate, he was determined to hit a home run. His enthusiasm was contagious. The next batter would come to the plate, and it became evident that Benny motivated them to get a hit.
In the early 80’s, Danny changed the color of the uniform to white. From 1984 – 1986, they won 3 championship games. The first against the hard-hitting Devils, but the defense and speedy outfielders allowed them to prevail by one run. The second win was against the Free Agents – a young, speedy team; however, the Wild Bunch defense prevailed again. The third win was against another hard-hitting team, the Blazers who managed to score plenty of runs, but not enough.
In 1985, they traveled south to play the world champion, Flamingos at Shore Park. Although they were never able to beat The Flamingos combination of defense, speed, and powerful hitting at South Shore Park, years later, they were able to defeat them at Garfield Park. The ultimate dream became a reality in the Black Heritage Classic at the Old Comiskey Ball Park. Imagine a group of young black men from the west side of Chicago, standing on the same field as some of the most iconic figures in baseball. They walked through the same tunnel as Frank Thomas and Ozzie Guillen, and the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, threw out the first pitch. Although they came in third place, the experience of playing on the same field as the iconic White Sox, was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.
During those years, despite several bids to the ASA National tournaments, they always lost in the second rounds, but enjoyed the experience.
From 1986-1988, they added key players Thomas “Hands” Dismuke – an outstanding first baseman and powerful hitter, and Melvin Wayne Barnes – an outstanding infielder and recent graduate from Marshall High School. Playing at Smith Park, Maywood Park, and Garfield Park, they had wins and losses, but won the championship games at Garfield, their home park.
Wild Bunch remained competitive in the early 90’s, but stretched thin and plagued by injuries, they were unable to win any championships. By 2005, they came back strong and made it to the Championship game, but lost to California Gold at Garfield Park. They also won a Championship game at Columbus Park against Steel Gold.
In 2005, they played a great defensive game against the Outlaws at Columbus Park. Winning by 1 run, it provided their last opportunity to chant Wildbunch!, Wildbunch!, Wildbunch!
The Wild Bunch played 16-inch championship softball for four decades; with and without gloves.Consequently, their hard work and dedication to the team, changed their lives forever. They used sports as a catalyst to become productive members of society, joining the ranks of other hard-working police officers, teachers, postal workers, city workers, managers, and accountants. As they retire, many continue to “pay-it-forward” by mentoring and volunteering in any way that they can. They have managed to maintain their lifelong friendships and are role models for each other’s children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Thanks to everyone who contributed to overall success of our team!
Every player contributed to the overall success of the team, but the team was inspired most by their leaders. To this day, Danny Weem’s leadership, wisdom, foresight and commitment to the team’s success had a huge impact on every aspect of the players’ lives. Just as important, Christopher Barnett was the father figure they needed on and off the field.