A Home Run for Mental Health: Baseball at Northern State Hospital
Sometimes, the most fascinating historical gems come to light while researching something entirely different. Such is the case with Northern State Hospital’s baseball team.
Located in Skagit County near Sedro-Woolley, Northern State Hospital (NSH) opened its doors in 1912 and closed to patients in 1973. Today, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet during this time, the institution provided recreational and occupational therapy activities for patients and staff. It also published a newspaper. Nestled within the pages of The NSH News and The Norlum News are the highs and lows of the hospital’s team over the years.
NOTE: People interested in visiting the Washington State Library to read more about the team’s exploits should be aware that coverage of the games at times included racist and culturally insensitive language.
In 1931, NSH fielded its first team: the Hospital Stars (renamed the “Norlum Indians” in 1938). Supervisor of Men, W.R. Allhands, “passed the hat among N.S.H. employees to raise funds” to build spectator bleachers and purchase equipment. In the 1930s, the team’s roster included staff and patients. Softball was eventually offered to patients as a safer alternative, though baseball was again offered to patients in the 1960s.
Sportswriters enthusiastically recounted plays made by athletes named Theodore “Speedy-Tricky” Dziedzic and George “Hoot” Faulconer. NSH competed against outside teams, including the Skagit League All-Stars, Gordon Wreckers, and Everett Eagles at home and throughout King, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties, as well as other Washington state hospitals and a Civilian Conservation Corps team from Camp Lyman.
In an Aug. 31, 1934, article of The NSH News, reporter M. N. Welch proposed a slogan ahead of the team’s Labor Day game vs. Bellingham: “What do you say, folks, to this slogan: ‘No hits, no runs, no errors; and plenty of gallery support for the home team!” Not the catchiest slogan, but the newspaper’s coverage of the baseball season shows enthusiasm and respect for the team’s efforts and provides a glimpse into the local community’s support by attending games. The NSH News coverage is rich with details about box scores, batting averages, names of players and coaches, travel games, and more.
NSH took a hiatus from baseball during World War II. League play with the hospital seems to have tapered off after 1961, with no mention of a hospital team from 1962 to 1973. The team’s name, however, transferred to one of the hospital’s softball squads. Competitive and recreational softball continued, with NSH hosting the occasional Little League game and home games for local Sedro-Woolley teams on the newer ball field located behind the greenhouse.
Today, visitors to the old hospital grounds might give pause and imagine the crack of old hickory bats and raucous cheers as another player slides home.
This blog post includes research drawn from issues of the The Northern State Hospital News and The Norlum News, held at the Washington State Library. Washington State Archives staff provided welcome assistance in locating additional resources.