FIFTY YEARS AGO…
Much Ado About Nothing: Topless Softball Raises Eyebrows
by John Conway
It was July, 1972—50 years ago this month—that a charity softball game in Monticello drew the attention of the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office, and eventually led to a clamp down on topless softball games.
The hubbub started on Saturday, July 22, when the Monticello fire department softball team showed up at the Delano Motor Lodge on Old Liberty Road to play a game against the Delano team. Much to the firemen’s surprise, and no doubt to their delight, when the home team took the field in the top of the first inning, the outfield comprised four topless women.
Bill Lowry, a reporter for the Times Herald-Record newspaper, picks up the story from there:
“Can you top this?” Lowry wrote in the Saturday, July 29 edition of the paper, before proceeding to report on the incident with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “Monticello firemen found themselves in hot water Friday after playing a softball game against a team that included bare-chested women. Oh, the woe.”
Monticello Fire Chief Robert Stratton told Lowry that the firemen had scheduled the game as a fundraiser for the Monticello Ambulance Corps, and were completely unaware that the Delano team was going to include the women, who were apparently topless dancers who entertained at the Motor Lodge.
“As far as topless went, we knew nothing about it until we were there,” Stratton told the Record. “We wouldn’t do anything like that if we knew. Everybody was having a lot of fun, there was nothing I could see bad except that I heard later that it wasn’t legal. What were we going to do, walk off the field?
“Look, we work hard fighting fires, and the men play a lot of softball. Why shouldn’t they enjoy themselves? Still, if we had known it was illegal, we wouldn’t have done it.”
When reports of the game reached Sullivan County District Attorney Louis Scheinman, he quickly fired off a letter reminding towns and villages in the county that they had the power to ban topless dancing. Scheinman noted in his letter that his office had received a number of complaints about topless entertainment, including one from a man who contacted him at 11 o’clock at night to complain that he had seen the topless softball game from “a nearby road.”
“The net effect” of Scheinman’s letter, Lowry wrote, was that “the Monticello Elks, mentioned as next in line to play the buxom beauties, issued a stern denial that they were involved.”
Lowry quoted Anthony Cellini, secretary of the Monticello Elks, as saying the upcoming game did not involve the organization, but was to pit the Delano team against a neighborhood squad called the Landfield Avenue Commandos. No record could be found as to who won the game or who lost their shirts.