History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Organizations

Saturday Softball League (SSBL) - History

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The Saturday Softball Beer League or SSBL competed as an official league in 1978, although four teams arranged “pick-up” games in 1977. Eight teams competed in SSBL’s first year in 1978.

The first WRECKROOM CLASSIC was also held in 1978 over the Memorial Day Weekend. It all started as 3 guys were having a drink on a cold and snowy night in February 1978. Someone suggested “Why don’t we have a softball tournament over the Memorial Day weekend?” Wayne Bernhagen, owner of the Wreck Room (which is now a building for MIAD) was always ready to promote Milwaukee and the gay community, said, “Go for it!”

The next question – “ How are we going to get anyone to come to Milwaukee in May?” After going thru Bob Damron’s Gay Guide, over 50 invitations were sent out to all over the country. The break-through came from NYC. Richie Diaz said he would have his Eagles team participate. Word next came from Toronto that they would also be sending at team.

A team from Milwaukee also participated in the Canada Cup Softball Tournament in 1978, over the 4th of July weekend, and a team representing Milwaukee went to New York City in September of that year for the 2nd Gay Softball World Series.

In 1979, the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (N.A.G.A.A.) was organized. Milwaukee, along with San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto became its charter members. N.A.G.A.A. awarded Milwaukee to be the host city for the 1979 Gay Softball World Series. Teams from Boston, Chicago, and the Twin Cities were also invited to participate. Because of the World Series coming to Milwaukee, the Wreckroom Classic was not held that year.

In 1980, 11 out-of-town teams joined 8 Milwaukee entries for the Wreckroom Classic with the M&M Club taking the crown. In 1981, teams from Los Angeles and San Francisco with the Wreckroom Classic increasing to 22 teams. Milwaukee’s Wreckroom Chaps defeat the Nu-Town Saloon of Los Angeles to take the Classic. In 1982, 22 teams participate in the tournament with the Pendulum Pirates of San Francisco taking the crown, a warm up for their eventual title run in the World Series. In 1983, 23 teams participate as the Wreckroom Chaps return the cup to Milwaukee in a thrilling 9-inning victory over Sidetracks of Chicago. The last year of the Wreckroom Classic saw 26 teams come to Milwaukee in 1984 with Griff’s taking the trophy back to the West Coast and Los Angeles.

In 1985, Milwaukee again hosted the 9th Gay Softball World Series as we “Captured the Spirit”, so there was no Classic. For the first time, a women’s division was also included.

1986 brought major change to SSBL and the Classic. Due to health reasons, Wayne Bernhagen asks SSBL to take over the sponsorship of the tournament. The Milwaukee Classic is born and in its first year, 20 teams participate. Cloud 9 Americans of the Twin Cities avenge an earlier loss to Redoubt of Chicago to win the final 2 games and the Classic. The Americans repeat in 1987 and Club 1270 of Boston becomes the first Recreational division champion. Chicago and New York come through in 1988 as Sidetracks capture the Competitive division and Ty’s/Chelsea Transfer take the Recreational division.

The 10th Classic in 1989 brings 33 teams to Milwaukee as the women join in. Burkhardt’s win the Competitive cup while Venture Inn of Philadelphia capture the Recreational division. Club 1270 of Boston take the Women’s crown.

In 1990, the Milwaukee Classic was mostly “bad”! Blake’s Bad Boys of Atlanta won the Recreational division and the M&M Bad Girls of Milwaukee win the Women’s division. The Saloon Americans of Minneapolis win the Competitive division. 1991 saw the Classic’s first no-hitter as Ray led the New York Spike’s Black Sox to the Competitive crown. The Brass Rail Bandits of Minneapolis edged the Wreckroom Spurs of Milwaukee for the Recreational trophy.

1992 saw the largest Milwaukee Classic. There were 46 teams that participated. It was also the coldest tournament that Milwaukee had with wind chill temps in the teens. Games were switched to Wick Field. Chicago Sidetracks and the Minneapolis Brass Rail Bandits took home the hardware.

In 1993, Milwaukee and Chicago entered into an agreement to alternate the Memorial Day tournament. This year the tournament was in Chicago.

In 1994, 28 teams participated in the tournament with the Cincinnati Cats, Chicago’s Granville Station and Your Place of Milwaukee taking trophies.

All league games were played at Mitchell Park until 1995. Because the upper diamond was converted to a soccer field, SSBL was forced to move to Sijan Field on Milwaukee’s south side.

In 2002, big changes again, occurred with SSBL. First, SSBL officially moved back to Mitchell Park from Sijan Field (where you can still see the teams play) where one diamond remains. Secondly, the Classic changed names once again, with the tournament changing not only the name but also the weekend of the tournament. The Dairyland Classic tournament over Labor Day Weekend was born. Its first year saw 14 teams enter into the tournament.

2003 the Dairyland Classic had to compete with the Harley Davidson 100th Anniversary party, so the decision was made to move the tournament to the weekend beforeLabor Day weekend. 12 teams were represented coming from Minneapolis, St Paul, Madison and Chicago.

In 2014 and 2015, games were played in Wilson Park on the south side.


Original logo, c1980

Photo from the Milwaukee Classic, 1988

Logo, 2004

1988 Classic buttons

Current logo

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Credits: information from the SBBL web site.
page design and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May-2015.