Clarence Buckenberger Sr., a driving force in recreation softball both locally and nationally for more than a quarter of a century, died Thursday night at his Spokane Valley home following a lengthy illness. He was 73.
Buckenberger was born and raised in South Dakota. He moved to Spokane in 1948 and immediately got involved in the local sports scene, helping form the Valley Youth Baseball League, where he coached and served on the board for nine years.
In the mid-1950s, with his kids well entrenched in sports, “Bucky” as he was affectionately known, rekindled his own athletic career.
The game of choice for his generation was fastpitch softball, and Spokane had a quality program, if somewhat short on participation.
“We only had 25 or 30 teams,” he would later recall.
During 17 years as a player - he was a pitcher - and coach, he recognized that softball then was “an old-man’s game.” “You had to be 35 or older to play,” he said during a 1974 interview. His team, he recalled, “was the first to break the age barrier. I was 32.”
In an effort to attract younger players, who shied away from the sport because they were intimidated by fastpitch pitching, Buckenberger was among those who saw the need for “a new game.”
It spawned the birth of “rec pitch”- the pitcher couldn’t use a windmill delivery - which has since become known as modified pitch. And Spokane continues to be a softball hotbed nationally.
During his playing-coaching days, Buckenberger joined the board of then-local Amateur Softball Association commissioner Lloyd Benson as a deputy commissioner. In 1972, Buckenberger became softball director for the Spokane Metro Softball Association, which ran the adult program. When Benson retired following the 1973 season, Buckenberger added the commissioner’s job to his softball director duties.
One of his first acts as a member of the ASA national council was to promote a national championship tournament for the modified game. The first official ASA national modified tournament was held in 1975.
Spokane has since hosted a half-dozen national tournaments.
When Buckenberger became commissioner he estimated there were 250-300 teams. When he stepped down after 15 years as commissioner, there were 1,000.
Buckenberger, who remained active on the local ASA board and national council as commissioner emeritus, earned two awards from the ASA for increasing membership and served a stint as chairman of the modified rules committee.
He was inducted into the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame’s Scroll of Honor in 1985. In 1990, he was inducted into both the Spokane and Northwest softball halls of fame.
In the past couple of months he received two other honors. During the ASA national convention in Nashville in early November, he was recognized for his 25 years on the national council. A month ago, the city of Spokane said it was naming the renumbered field No. 2 at Franklin Park in Buckenberger’s honor. A dedication will be in the spring.
He is survived by his wife, Klothilde “Ikey” Buckenberger, at the home; sons Clarence “Fuzzy” Buckenberger Jr., Jerry Buckenberger and Jason Buckenberger, all Spokane; and daughters Barbara Jean Wilson, Portland; Terry Hanaway, Liberty Lake; and Kathy Buckenberger and Shelly Egeland, both Spokane.
Also by two brothers, three sisters, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be Monday at 1 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3606 S. Schafer. Visitation will be Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. at Thornhill Valley Funeral Home, 1400 S. Pines.
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