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A group of family members, softball league players and friends gathered on Tuesday, June 20, for a ceremony to dedicate one of the Gaunt Park baseball diamonds to the late Jackie and Yvonne Davenport, longtime villagers who were fierce advocates for league sports in the village. From left, front: Barb Cousins, Pam Conine, Scott Osterholm, Moriah Johnston, Milo Strolger and Robin Hull. Back: April Wolford, Alma Brown, Joretta Johnston, Patricia Stroder, Jackie Strolger, Shakar Strolger and Miles Strolger. (Photo by Jessica Thomas)

Building Community | Baseball fields renamed after Davenport sisters

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BUILDING COMMUNITY

This is the sixth in a series examining the meaning of community through the eyes of residents working to build and shape it in Yellow Springs.

When members of Yellow Springs’ softball and Perry leagues play their next game, they’ll play on a field with a new name — the Jackie and Yvonne Davenport Memorial Baseball Field.

The field was dedicated on Tuesday, June 20, to honor the Davenport sisters — Jackie, who died in March 2023 and Yvonne, who died in February 2021. The sisters were integral in creating a space for women in Yellow Springs’ recreational baseball league and were fierce advocates for athletic programs throughout the village.

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Attended by friends, family and members of the Expressos — one of the many teams coached by Jackie Davenport — the ceremony included the unveiling of a sign and a proclamation from Pam Conine, the mayor of Yellow Springs and a former member of the Expressos. 

“Jackie and Yvonne Davenport were both beloved residents of Yellow Springs,” Conine read from the proclamation. “Those two women were tireless advocates for organized sports in the village, especially for softball.”

Conine went on to say that she and others in the Village government felt it was important to mark the occasion with a proclamation because doing so creates a historical record.

“Like the historical record created by this proclamation, the legacy of what Jackie and Yvonne have done for the village will outlive us all,” Conine said.

Scott Osterholm, lovingly referred to as “Rookie” by teammates and a member of the group that worked to get the field dedicated to the Davenports, said the sisters meant the world to him. He said he was pleased to be one of the few men asked to join the team, which led to the formation of another mixed-league team, the Village Drive Thru.

“The practices were like bootcamp,” Osterholm said. “But there was something about their personalities that I was drawn towards. I really respected them. Why? Because Davenport rules.”

After the reading of the proclamation, April Wolford and other members of the Expressos, including Patricia Stroder, discussed their memories of the “Davenport rules.”

“One rule we had was that if the first [hitter] got on base, the second person had to hit into right field, behind the runner,” Stroder said. “That would [ideally] push the runner on first base forward two bases.”

Wolford said the sisters had an understanding of how a team needed to work together to ensure success for everyone.

“We had to be aware of what our teammates were doing,” Wolford said. “They had a very team-oriented approach.”

Those “Davenport rules” applied to life both on and off the ballfield. The News recently spoke with Joretta and Moriah Johnston, Jackie Davenport’s daughter and granddaughter, who described the Davenports’ contribution to sports in the village, but also their ability to build connections both on and off the field.

Jackie Davenport (Submitted photo)

 

“They were both forces to be reckoned with,” Moriah Johnston said, explaining how both sisters were respected around the village as they raised their children and worked.

The sisters grew up in the Ohio Veterans’ Children’s Home in Xenia until their respective graduations — Jackie in 1963 and Yvonne in 1965. According to Joretta Johnston, her mother and aunt were some of the first students to live in integrated dormitories, which played a large role in their formative years, teaching them tolerance and acceptance of diverse groups of people.

Both sisters would go on to have children and decided to move to Yellow Springs in a home together to raise their family.

“Growing up in that time period, people were not as friendly towards single moms with biracial kids,” Joretta Johnston said. “Being in the village made them feel safe.”

“They grew up so poor and in what I call an orphanage,” Moriah Johnston said. “That pushed them to look for a place that really embodied community.”

As they raised their families in Yellow Springs, the Davenports were active in sports, with Jackie playing for the Robinettes, a Springfield softball team that traveled around the country for tournament play.

“It was amazing to watch when I was little,” Joretta Johnston said. “I enjoyed going on trips and staying in hotels with my mom and Aunt Yvonne.”

At home, the sisters supported their family by working in the village; Yvonne was a longtime employee at Antioch, where she was said to be more like a mom. Andrea Guskin, whose father, Al Guskin, was the president of Antioch College, called her time spent with Yvonne “very significant.”

“[Yvonne’s] warmth and caring spirit in our home made such a difference to me,” Guskin wrote in a Facebook message to Moriah Johnston.

Yvonne Davenport (Submitted photo)

That sentiment was echoed by Osterholm and Moriah and Joretta Johnston, who said the Davenport home was a place where people from all backgrounds gathered and felt safe, including members of the LGBTQ community.

“With Grandma Jackie being a part of the LGBTQ community, they created a whole new social circle,” Moriah Johnston said. “It was really powerful.”

“Many of the women who joined the softball league joined for [Jackie],” Joretta Johnston said. “[Jackie and Yvonne] were very supportive of people’s sexuality, especially of Black women, so there were lesbians and women married with kids all on one team.

“Because Davenport rules meant you respected everyone,” Joretta Johnston said.

In addition to her time as a coach and mentor, Jackie Davenport worked for the Village of Yellow Springs, becoming the first female water treatment plant operator in the Village. She also ran a volleyball league at the John Bryan Center for 40 years and was integral in the longevity of the youth center that is housed at the Bryan Center.

“They did so much,” Moriah Johnston said. “I don’t think that they were aware of what they created in terms of a family, a household or community, having started from nothing.”

Toward the conclusion of the dedication ceremony, April Wolford  and other attendees spoke on how they could carry on the Davenport’s legacy in the village.

“Jackie and Yvonne organized baseball, volleyball and the Halloween bonfire at the Union Schoolhouse. It’s the kind of organization we’re missing, not just here, but in lots of places in our country,” Wolford said. “To fill those shoes, all of us will have to step in.” 

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One Response to “Building Community | Baseball fields renamed after Davenport sisters”

  1. Belle Finnwitz says:

    I’ve never been a sports enthusiast (the Halloween bonfire is more me). I just never learned the art of “team playing” or negotiating {cheering crowds} or even how to ride a bicycle for that matter; but I can certainly look at these photos and this article and grasp how much these sisters meant to the village and know they were well loved.

    I am so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful way to honor Jackie and Yvonne. Peace.

    Everyone has a need to fit in or belong somewhere, sometime.

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