When Viola Thompson was 9 years old she was watching a girls’ softball game. A ball came rolling over to her. She picked it up and threw it back. Barney Smith, manager of the girls’ textile team, saw it. He said he thought she could pitch, and asked her to try out for the team. That was the beginning of an amazing trip. Her father, Henry J. Thompson, came from the Cherokee Indian Tribe in western NC.
Her mother was Mae Abercrombie. They moved from Oconee County to Anderson a few years after Viola Thompson was born (January 2, 1922) and her father went to work at Anderson Mill. There were 6 boys and 5 girls in the family.
“Our recreation had to be basic”, she recalled in a recorded interview in September of 2004 for a segment in Anderson County Twentieth Century Memories and Reflections, Book 11. Not being able to afford toys,“we tended to go toward the sporting world. As we got older the girls started playing softball. The boys got into boxing.”
She was a left-hander with a strong fast pitch and played softball with textile mill teams in spite of criticism from some church ladies because girls were wearing shorts. After graduating from High School she went to Greenville to Mills Mill where she was athletic director and played ball with the boys teams during the morning and the girls at night. It was there in 1943 when one day a baseball scout came on to the field and asked if she would be interested in going to Chicago to try out for a girls’ professional baseball team.
The All-American Girls Professional League had been formed by Phillip Wrigley (of chewing gum fame) to fill in for all the men entering military service during World War II. It was a thrilling opportunity and she was off to Chicago in 1944. “There were hundreds of girls from all over. Just to walk out on Wrigley Field was such a thrill. I looked at all those girls and, boy, they looked so confident and they could throw that ball and they knew all about baseball.”
“We were learning from the best former major league baseball players. There were Jimmy Foxx and Max Carey, both subsequently in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” She wound up on Max Carey’s team with the Milwaukee Chicks. All the girls were traded around to keep the teams evenly matched and she also played for the South Bend Blue Sox
“At night we went to charm school. They taught us how to look like girls, how to comb our hair, how to wear makeup. We had to have lipstick on and we had to have long hair. They didn’t want mannish looking girls. They taught us how to sit and how to walk. They taught us how to dress and how to eat properly because we were going to be invited out to civic meetings in our teams’ hometowns. They wanted us to make a good showing.”
Each team had a chaperone. They looked after the players like a den mother. They were just a few years older than the players.
“The skirts we were wearing were kind of full and they would get in the way, especially with an underhand pitch. Our chaperone had big old safety pins and she would pull my skirt over real tight and pin it on my left side since I was pitching left-handed. Then the skirt wouldn’t hit and flap while I was pitching.”
“The first year in Milwaukee in 1944 we won the championship which was a really exciting experience –to win the world championship. While we were in Milwaukee, they had a men Triple A team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Their manager was Casey Stengel.” He did not like that a bunch of girls were playing on their field. Max Carey challenged Stengel’s team to just a three or four inning game. “We beat them.”
They did spring training in Mississippi, Florida and Cuba. The entire league would go to those locations. They played exhibition games throughout the South and for service personnel.
After the war the league faded. Players got married or continued their education. The girls were getting older.
She played eight years in the All-American League and then four in the National League where she switched because the former league had changed to side-arm and then overhand pitching. Then she came home and got married to Claude Griffin. They had two daughters, Claudia and Carol.
Penny Marshall who had played in the TV show Lavern and Shirley acquired the rights to the league’s story. She made the movie A League of Their Own that debuted in the summer of 1991.“Allof those years came back almost like in Technicolor. Here we were again.” She went out with a group of the former players to help in the making of the movie and work with those playing their parts.
Lori Petty played Viola Thompson. They practiced together and she said some of the actresses were pretty good players. She was scheduled for a speaking part but it was eliminated because she did not belong to the actors’ union. However, she did appear briefly in a scene showing the original players at the end of the film entering the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tom Hanks played Jimmy Foxx. “I thought he did a good job but they showed him right off the bat going in the girls’ clubhouse and using the bathroom. That appalled me so when I saw it.” That never would have happened. There were some “Hollywood” things in the movie that would not have occurred such as Madonna catching a ball in her cap. “We would have been fined, sent home, no telling what all, if we had tried some of those stunts.” But she felt the movie “pretty much told the story.”
Viola Thompson Griffin passed away December 31, 2017.
I sat at the kitchen table, working on paperwork and occasionally glancing out the picture window, hoping against hope that we would see a. . . . .
“Mike!” I yelled breathlessly to my husband. He hurried to the kitchen and we both saw it – a rose-breasted grosbeak eating sun- flower seeds at our feeder. This is a beautiful black and white bird with a deep pink triangle under its throat, potentially sighted at feeders here for only about a week in April as they migrate. From reports on eBird and from friends, I knew they had been spotted in our area, and our sighting that day was a life list bird for us.
That moment five years ago remains one of the highlights of our 30+ years of watching birds. We didn’t see that grosbeak in some exotic location like Costa Rica, or south Texas, or even a South Carolina beach. We saw it from inside our home in west Anderson.
Birdwatching used to conjure up images of little old ladies wearing pith helmets and khaki shorts carrying ten-pound binoculars. No more. Birdwatching is now one of the fast- est growing hobbies in North America, and for good reason. It’s easy to start. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s fun for both beginners and for old-timers. It can be done anywhere. It’s beautiful. And it’s hugely rewarding. Anyone, young or old, can do this. Here are a few ideas from an everyday bird lover for anyone interested in getting started.
1. Just begin observing!! Anytime you see movement in your yard or as you are traveling (the beach is a great place for bird- watching), study what you see. Notice what are called field marks – shape, size, coloration, beak size. Then, to continue, you need to . . . .
2. Get a field guide in book form. Even with phone apps, a book is imperative for studying field marks. My favorite is my old faithful Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds of North America; however, many other solid guides exist. Start reading and identifying!
3. Purchase a good pair of binoculars.
4. Put up a feeder if possible. Fill it with black oil sunflower seed (not mixed seed). Feeders work best around bushes and trees where birds have a place to escape if a raptor comes close. Suet feeders are also helpful and inexpensive, and suet is easily purchased at hardware and other stores.
5. Start a list!! The more birds you find, and the longer your lists get, the more motivated you will be to continue. Start a life list, a year list, a yard list – anything to track your observations.
6. Learn the local hot spots where birds are often seen. In Anderson County, this would include the Rocky River Nature Preserve, the Townville area, and the Clemson Research stations. Lake Hartwell often has an abundance of birds. But anywhere where the habitat is trees, fields, or water (which qualifies most of Anderson County) is a good possibility.
7.Familiarize yourself with eBird.org and Carolinabirdclub.org. These give great information and also alert you to rare bird sightings in our area. Consider downloading apps such as Merlin or Audubon that identify birds from your phone.
8. Recognize up front that sometimes you will see and identify plenty of new birds, and other times will seem very lean. Don’t quit! The breakthrough moments always come.
And when those breathtaking opportunities come—when you see your own rose-breasted grosbeak, or whatever bird it happens to be--you will find yourself hooked. Probably for life!
On November 16, 2019, The Market Theatre Company participated in the Community Theatre Festival at the 53rd Annual South Carolina Theatre Association Annual Convention.
After ending their original run on the Market stage in October, The 39 Steps team traveled to Francis Marion University in Florence, SC to perform in the beautiful FMU Performing Arts Center. On Sunday, November 17, Market Theatre received the following awards:
Best Director – Drew Whitley
Best Actor – Savvy Thompson
Best Actor – Matt Groves
Best Supporting Actor – Alex Bennett
Best Costume Design – Kaitlyn Fuller
Best Scenic Design – Cameron Woodson
Best Sound Design – Stephanie Ibbotson
Best Lighting Design – John Keenan
As the State Winner, The 39 Steps will go on to participate in the regional community theatre festival at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Louisville, KY. Market Theatre will compete against productions from 10 other states in February 2020.
About Market Theatre:
Now concluding its fourth season, Market Theatre is located in downtown Anderson, SC, at the Anderson Arts Center. Founded in 2015, The Market Theatre Company connects and inspires our community by creating quality art, educational opportunities, and a vibrant community arts hub.
The Market Theatre Company is home to exceptional theatrical experiences created by and for our community. We use the arts to help people understand and be under- stood; we believe that no one is alone. Market Theatre impacts thousands each year with our quality, affordable performances, education programs, and outreach events that inspire connection and understanding.