On summer nights in a bygone era, crowds of spectators would descend on the softball fields at Stotzky Park. They would line the fences to catch a glimpse of the action, to see players like “Skeeter” chase down fly balls and sprint around the bases.
In Riverhead, no one was faster than Skeeter.
“Didn’t you run like a 9.5, 9.6?” Greg Mack asked Waverly “Skeeter” Atkins, referring to the 100-yard dash in track.
“9.4,” Skeeter clarified as he manned the barbecue, flipping burgers and grilling hot sausage as the sun shone down Saturday afternoon.
On this day, two decades removed from their playing days, the R.M. Masonettes and R.M. Blockbusters gathered for their third annual reunion in Riverhead. At a cookout block party on Hinda Boulevard, they shared stories, joked with one another about who had been the best player, and remembered the man who started it all: Roy Mack Sr.
They all once played modified fast-pitch softball, the Masonettes, a team of women, and the Blockbusters, of men. Beginning in 1979 and continuing through the next decade, the two teams were at the forefront of a widely popular softball league.
“We were champs all 10 years,” said Cynthia Mack, one of Roy and Bernice Mack’s nine children. “Our rivalry was Allied Optical. Our last year, when we were ready to fizzle out, that was the first time we lost.”
Cynthia played in the infield (second base) along with her sisters Charlene Crump (third base) and Cheryl Atkins (first base). Dottie Lewis played shortstop.
While the former team members’ athletic days have passed, they’ve continued the tradition, set by Roy and Bernice, of giving back to the community by forming Our Future Generation, an organization whose goal is to “encourage, uplift and promote our youth to become better citizens in their communities.”
The organization annually donates the $500 Roy Mack Sr. Memorial Scholarship to a Riverhead High School student who is pursuing higher education.
This year’s recipient, Wesley Wheeler, a 2013 graduate, was on hand Saturday for the festivities.
“It helps out a lot,” Mr. Wheeler said, “even if it’s small, because books cost a lot.”
Mr. Wheeler attends Suffolk County Community College, he said, in liberal arts and plans to transfer after a year to Farmingdale State College to pursue a psychology degree.
A new youth group, called The Future Generation, was recently formed to complement Our Future Generation. The new organization’s goal is to help the community and learn what it takes to run an organization. They’ve already run a bake sale and a car wash as fundraisers. The youngest member is 8 years old and the oldest, 18-year-old Shaiquaisha Mack, who just graduated from Riverhead High School, is a great-granddaughter of Bernice and Roy Mack. Shaiquaisha is president of the group.
“We said ‘OK, what do you want to do with your group?’<\!q>” Cynthia Mack said. “So they said they want to visit senior citizens, help the community with different things like cleanup.”
Roy Mack Sr., a longtime Riverhead mason who served in World War II, formed the two softball teams and coached the Blockbusters. “Daddy Mack,” as he was known, was remembered Saturday, with everyone wearing T-shirts with his face on the front. “Daddy Mack” died in 2008 but not before leaving a lasting imprint on his family and the entire community.
“He trained us well,” said Gwen Mack, oldest of the nine children. “We couldn’t go any place on a Saturday morning until the yard was raked and cleaned.”
Roy Mack’s son Greg Mack was the noted power bat in the league for the Blockbusters, setting records for home runs.
“I used to hit the home runs,” he said. “A long time ago.”
Nowadays he watches his grandson, a seventh-grader in Riverhead, play lacrosse.
“That’s the big thing now,” said Greg, who played in the outfield, first base and as pitcher for the Blockbusters.
As part of the yearly reunions, the former players would love to get back out on the field, to form two teams and toss the ball around for old time’s sake. Finding enough players willing to lace up their cleats has proved challenging.
“It’s hard to get people out of retirement,” Cynthia Mack said.
As the sausage sizzled on the grill Saturday, Greg Mack and Skeeter reminisced. Greg succinctly summed up the origin of Skeeter’s nickname: “Because he’s fast,” he said.
“Used to be,” Skeeter responded. “You’re talking almost 40 years now.”
Joe Werkmeister is the web editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at joew@timesreview or 298-3200, ext. 228.