Williams Lake Slo-Pitch League (WLSPL) president Linda Barbondy Rich considers herself fortunate to be part of so many different families in the Williams Lake area.
“It’s the reason I would never leave Williams Lake,” said Barbondy Rich.
When she was 10 years of age, she moved to Williams Lake from Maple Ridge with her parents, Ernie and Cecil Barbondy, and her brother, Todd, when her dad got a job as a steam engineer at Weldwood of Canada, which became West Fraser Plywood in 2005.
Barbondy Rich started playing baseball in Maple Ridge at the age of seven and then in Williams Lake. She has never looked back, playing and/or volunteering in the sport for 47 of her 53 years.
“I love the competition and the lifelong friends that the team sport creates.”
Barbondy Rich played minor softball through her Grade 12 year, and also played in the ladies fastball league, noting her original coaches were Dave Mans, Hank Dickie and Jim Abe.
At the age of 17 she got a job at Weldwood, and has worked at the plywood plant for the past 36 years, now as a log scaler with West Fraser.
She formed her current slo-pitch league team, the Williams Lake Rowdies, in 1994, which was originally sponsored by the Ranch Pub and called the Ranch Pub Rowdies.
The Williams Lake slo-pitch leagues at the time — the Dog Patch League and the Chilcotin Slo-Pitch League — were both disorganized and needed some help, which prompted her decision to start volunteering in 1995.
Games prior were played at various fields in the area, with 1994 marking the opening of the current fields at the Esler Sports Complex.
“The four fields (we have now) had two separate leagues,” she said. “The lower field was the one the Rowdies joined, and then the upper fields were the Chilcotin League.”
When the leagues combined in 2004, Barbondy helped take over the organization of the leagues becoming president.
“The whole thing at the time was just gravel fields, and my team helped put the gravel up on field one,” she said. “There was no outhouse, dugouts, fences, benches — nothing. There was a backstop and that was it.”
In her early 20s at the time, Barbondy Rich said she had no experience managing anything and learned on the fly how to deal with people.
“I just kind of fell into it,” she said. “I never gave up, and we’ve come a long way from what was there originally.”
The ball fields at the Esler Sports Complex — thanks to many volunteer hours and fundraising, and support from the city and Cariboo Regional District — now each have their own set of bleachers, fences, dugouts, backstops, infield crush, grass, a concession, outhouses, a children’s play area and other amenities.
Barbondy Rich said she has fond memories of her time spent coaching and captaining the Rowdies over the years.
“We just started out as a group of friends putting a team together,” she said. “And I liked the competition the most, and the friendship. That was the biggest thing for me with running a ball team, and the family dynamics of it, which was something I have always enjoyed, and that’s why our team has been able to last so long.”
Currently the WLSPL houses about 30 teams and 800 players and is one of the largest adult sports organizations in the Cariboo.
Plans for the end of the 2021 season include resurfacing all four infields at Esler.
Over the years, the Rowdies have had the opportunity to travel playing slo-pitch, to destinations such as Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
And when the pandemic settles down, Barbondy Rich said another team trip will definitely be in order.
In July of 2020, she lost her husband Wally Rich, who died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.
“We were together seven years, and got married in 2018 by ‘Elvis’ in Las Vegas,” she said with a smile.
Barbondy Rich said she’s blessed to now have five stepchildren, and many step grandchildren, in her life. Her parents also still live five minutes down the road from her.
“Wally had two kids, and they now have kids, and with them and my other stepchildren from a previous relationship I’m very fortunate to have everyone, and we all stay very close,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going. “Not just my immediate family. But all my families, including my ball families.”
Linda Barbondy Rich’s name is synonymous with Williams Lake Slo-Pitch.
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