The saying goes that Jackie Sheppard never met a softball she didn’t like. And for good reason.
The Hamilton-born Queen of Canadian softball came to London some 55 years ago and embarked on a journey that would take her across the country and an icon in the game she loved.
The journey began on the local sandlots where she was scorer in recreation fastball. She became so proficient that she was asked to conduct clinics about the elements of scoring. She knew her stuff and it was easy to pass it along. Eventually Jackie became a top-notch organizer, a stickler for details, a team manager and, on occasion, an umpire.
When slo-pitch softball came on the scene in the late 1970s Jackie was front and centre as an administrator in this new-found offshoot of fastball . Competition was for both men and women and soon its popularity overshadowed London’s vast array of fast-pitch leagues. The appeal was simple: Get 12 players, buy some T-shirts, everybody hits, everybody plays and join in celebrations after the games.
Jackie partnered with another slo-pitch pioneer, Larry Walsh, to help form the London Softball Association. They had started the Metro/Lounsbury league which was the first group of importance and the forerunner of the sprawling slo-pitch program administered by London’s PUC Recreation Department.
Walsh had been a pitcher of note in those halcyon days while Jackie was manager/coach of such women’s teams as the Ted Gilts Gems, CFB Rockettes and London Rebels.
Jackie was an important part of the famed World’s Largest softball tournament operated by Ken Benjamin and the city Rec people that put London on the slo-pitch map. She went a step further when she organized the Can-Am tournament that morphed into an annual event with games initially between London and Kentucky teams. She became a popular figure and was often honoured by her United States friends receiving awards and citations. She was even presented with a key to the City of Louisville.
Jackie was also active in fast-pitch softball, often helping the late Dorothy Hill stage the Byron Girl’s Tournament which grew into one of the largest events of its kind in North America.
Jackie was looked at as a person of authority by slo-pitch teams everywhere. She had this dream of establishing regional, provincial and national competition where men’s. women’s. and mixed teams could compete at all levels. Thus, Slo- Pitch National was born and Jackie was a natural to be its first chief administrator.
Jackie served Slo-Pitch National well. Her no-nonsense approach resulted in a long-standing sponsorship agreement with Molson’s, the implementation of programs for playing rules and regulations, safety, insurance, awards and umpiring.
Born on July 22, 1938 in Hamilton with the maiden name Robinson. She joked that she was the real Jackie Robinson. She was, indeed, the real deal for those who knew her, especially her friends and associates with SPN, becoming that organization’s first inductee into the Slo-Pitch National Hall of Fame in 1998. Jackie has done her sport and the London community proud. Her family — Shelagh, Sue, Scott and Jamie. her four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, can boast of being connected to a true legend.
The London Sports Hall of Fame is honoured to include Jackie Sheppard as a builder/founder in its class of 2015.