It was the 1943-1944 hockey season, reported the Chicago Journal-Times. Chicago Blackhawk center Johnny Gottselig “skated toward the Detroit Red Wings’ goal, and got behind the defense men and in the clear for a shot at the cage.
“In Section G, Row C of the mezzanine could be heard a shrill feminine voice yelling, ‘Bunt, Johnny, bunt.'”
The voice belonged to Clara Schillace, the news report said.
Like Gottselig, Schillace also played center position, but for the Racine Belles, one of the four founding teams of the All-American Girls Professional Softball League.
Clara and teammates (l-r) Dorothy Wind, Eleanor Dapkus and Edythe Perlick were in Chicago that evening to watch their manager of the 1943 season, Johnny Gottselig, perform on the ice.
Gottselig had lead them to the League playoff championship in 1943 and it looked like he would return as the Belles’ manager for the 1944 season.
The news report made much of the softball connection, running a picture of Dapkus in front of Gottselig who was in full hockey regalia, holding a baseball bat.
From the beginning, the League enlisted well known sports figures like Gottselig as managers to lend credibility to women’s professional baseball.
Johnny Gottselig, born in Russia and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, was the only one who was still playing his sport, while he managed the Racine Belles in his off-season.
He was well qualified to manage a ball team. He had been a talented baseball player while at college in Edmonton, Alberta, pitching his home team to two provincial championships. During the second championship final game, he injured his arm and his dream of playing in the major leagues ended.
However, he had been playing amateur hockey during this period and was scouted by the Blackhawks. By 1928 he was in Chicago and he became a star player.
Gottselig even had experience managing girl players. In 1939, he lead the Moose Jaw Royals to the Canadian national tournament, although they were eliminated by the team that went on to win the championship.
Other prominent League managers hired for the inaugural 1943 season were:
- Josh Billings, catcher for major league teams in Cleveland and St Louis between 1913 and 1923, to manage the Kenosha Comets;
- Bert Niehoff, who played pro ball from 1913 to 1918, and was a member of the Philadelphia team in the 1915 World Series, to manage the South Bend Blue Sox;
- Eddie Stumpf, a fixture of the minor leagues as player, manager and executive, to manage the Rockford Peaches.
There were others who came after them. The manager considered to be the most successful was Bill Allington, who joined the League in 1945 as manager of the Rockford Peaches. Under his leadership, the Peaches won the League playoffs four times. When he later managed the Fort Wayne Daisies in 1953 and 1954, the Daisies won the League championship both years.
Allington was never a major league player himself. He had spent many years in the minor leagues, 15 years as a player and many more years as a scout and manager.