CLEARWATER, Fla. — Before the Bucs, Lightning and Rays, there was another Tampa Bay sports team: The Clearwater Bombers.
- Clearwater Bombers were ten-time National Fast Pitch Champions
- Names of former Bombers are all over the Tampa Bay area
- Former players reserving the Bombers’ history through The Bombers’ Legacy Project
The Bombers ruled fast pitch softball, but they also made an impact on the Bay area. Now, a group of former players is fighting to keep that legacy alive.
Gary Kane, Vice President of The Bombers’ Legacy Project Committee, remembers when the Bombers were the team to beat.
“The Bombers in softball, that was the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème in softball,” said Kane.
For over four decades, dating back to the 1940s, Clearwater was the center of fast pitch softball.
“Boy, it was true, true grit to see that kind of talent,” said Kane.
“Clearwater Bombers was the team to play,” said Ken Ericksen, USF Head Softball Coach. “And the place to be, in Jack Russell Stadium.”
The Clearwater Bombers were Ten-Time National Fast Pitch Champions. They were feared on the field, but also left a mark in the Bay Area.
“The aspect of the Bombers’ importance of the community is, look around you,” said Kane. “John Chestnut Park, John Chestnut, former Bomber. McMullen Booth Road, Paul McMullen, former Bomber. Herb Dudley Training Complex, former Bomber. Eddie C. Moore Complex, former Bomber.”
Another former Bomber is USF Head Softball Coach, Ken Ericksen, who was recently named the U.S. Olympic Softball Coach.
“What a historical program for the Tampa Bay Area,” said Ericksen. “You hope the memory never dies from it, and now you have the young women’s team who’s been very successful since 1987, in putting girls through training and preparing them for college.”
He’s referring to The Lady Bombers Softball Team, which evolved from the original Bombers. It’s another product of the program’s legacy.
But now, as former players are starting to pass away, those who suited up for the Bombers worry the team's impact on Clearwater will soon be forgotten.
“The history will be lost. It’ll just go up, disappear,” said Kane. “You have nothing to put your hands on expect family’s that have scrapbooks left or something, and eventually, they’d be gone.”
That’s why a group of former players created The Bombers’ Legacy Project in 2012. Their main mission is to build a museum, a place to showcase the team while educating younger generations about an important chapter in Tampa Bay sports.
Kane acknowledged how great it would be for kids to go to the museum and learn about the history of the Bombers.
“Me being a school resource officer, working with kids all the time, field trips to a Bomber museum to see how it used to be and how girls’ softball really evolved from what the men did back in the 40s,” said Kane.
However, they’ve only raised $30,000 out of a $500,000 goal and aren’t receiving any public funding.
Still, the players remain hopeful that with their own fundraising efforts, people will always remember what these men did.
“What the Bombers did to this community, contributed to its growth and its history,” said Kane. “It’s a big part of the history, 60 years worth.
And for these former Bombers, it’s 60 years worth fighting to keep alive.
“Just that experience and camaraderie and to see that disappear, would be horrible,” said Kane.