Open Women’s Championship
The Gilley’s Shield is named after Mack Gilley. In 1936 timber merchants ‘Brown & Broad’ recruited an American civilian to work in a ply-board factory in the northern reaches of Australia. A semi-pro baseball player who could boast sharing a diamond with names such as Ty Cobb and Dom DiMaggio, Mack Gilley fell into Australian Softball history and was to become one of the most influential figures this sport has ever seen.
Mack Gilley began his Australian Softball career in 1943 when he offered his services to the US troops who were promoting the sport as a recreational activity while stationed in Australia during World War II. A known advocate of women’s baseball and Softball (he toured the US in 1906 with Boston Bloomer Girls, reported as the first women’s baseball team in the world), a chance meeting in a Brisbane café led to Gilley being invited to a training session of a group of female baseball players endeavouring to revive sport in Australia.
Volunteering as an umpire, Gilley noticed the younger members of the team were struggling with the technicalities and demands of baseball. Offering Softball knowledge, Softball in Queensland began with Gilley elected inaugural president of the Queensland Women’s Softball Association, in a meeting held at the Queensland Women’s Housewives’ Room in Edward Street, Brisbane in 1946.
Gilley’s influence in the development of Softball went beyond his administration duties to QWSA. He coached and managed the Queensland Women’s Softball Team and was instrumental in training umpires for a school-based Softball program. In 1947 he played a major role in organising the first official interstate carnival, which would later become an annual tournament nation-wide and crafted and donated the shield, which in 1949 became the official trophy presented to each annual winner.
In the same year Gilley was given the honour alongside Irene Burrows (Vic) and Patricia Young (NSW) to draft a constitution in preparation for formally establishing a national Softball body. As the years progressed it was becoming clear that Softball in Australia was a female dominated sport. In 1950, the newly formed Australian Women’s Softball Council passed a motion to alter the constitution so ‘That all official representatives of this Council shall be women.’ The constitutional change excluded Gilley from presiding over AWSC meetings and coaching at a national level.
Despite the decree, Gilley continued to influence the development of Australian Softball. He retained his dual Presidency of the Queensland Softball and Baseball Associations until 1953, and remained State Coach of the Queensland Women’s Softball Team until it hosted its second interstate carnival that same year.
While his administrative, coaching and umpiring activities are widely known in the Softball circles, less was known about the time Gilley gave to the physically disadvantaged. Ruby Robinson (Sports writer and broadcaster) recalled going with a group of friends to the Rosemount Paraplegic Hospital and wheeling the patients down to watch Softball games. With Gilley’s help they too learned to play the sport.
Further constitutional changes denied Gilley one of the organisation’s highest awards – Life Membership, despite being nominated by Queensland in 1969. The newly renamed Australian Softball Federation was faced with the dilemma of recognising his latest contribution to the sport and opted for a miniature gold replica of the Shield he donated, which he could wear as a lapel pin. Mack Gilley passed away several years later, yet his legacy remains for all that claim to own it – The Gilley’s Shield.