[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] In a come-from-behind victory, the Rev. Lowell Grisham, deputy from Arkansas, will go down in the record books as having trounced all competition to win the only game in the first season of Bonnie Ball.
A large number of the deputies in the 800-plus-member house, and some staffers, scored points during the eight-inning game — one inning per day of convention. The umpire scored the plays, whose point values were based on players using buzzwords during deputies’ debate or engaging in certain activities while the house was in session. There were 28 possible ways to earn points.
Grisham beat out the Rev. Canon Gregory Straub, the Episcopal Church’s executive officer and secretary of the General Convention, in the final inning. Straub had been leading for most of the game. At the stroke of final gavel, Grisham had scored 71 points to Straub’s 60.
Outgoing House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, after whom the game was named, placed ninth in the final standings with 24 points.
The player who was listed in the standings as “The Spanish Translator who yelled into Deputy Salazar’s earphones” rounded out the top 10 with 20 points.
The identity of the game’s umpire and the umpire’s helper had been known only to their bishop, a technical assistant back home and, as of 7 a.m. July 12, an ENS reporter to whom they offered an exclusive interview to be released after the end of the game.
The umpire was incarnated in two people: the Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Louisiana and a deputy, and the Rev. Chad Jones, another Louisiana deputy. The umpire’s helper was Kenn Elder, diocesan communication’s director, who updated scoring on the website from back home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, based on decisions Stevenson sent him four or five times a day.
The idea for the game germinated during a lunch Stevenson and Jones had a few months ago.
“We’d been talking about what had happened at the last few conventions; how we’d seen people doing crazy things … people going to the microphone with headgear on,” Stevenson said.
They asked Elder on June 28, just a few days before the July 5-12 convention began, to help them create a digital way to keep track of plays, scoring and standings. It was meant to be some “good, clean fun” among a few deputies and their friends, according to the umpire.
During the course of the game, the umpire took the moniker of the Rt. Rev. William White, first bishop of Pennsylvania from Feb. 4, 1787, until his death July 17, 1836. White e-mailed about 11 others on July 8, the halfway point of convention, inviting them to view the action online.
By the next afternoon, the umpire heard deputies and others talking about the game in the House of Deputies. During Straub’s traditional announcement time at the end of the day’s sessions or perhaps the next day (real times seems to morph during convention), he read a note from Massachusetts Deputy Samuel Gould about Bonnie Ball, which required Straub to announce that he was the frontrunner. Gould finished the game a distant second to Straub.
“The next thing we knew, in our tiny little sphere of the Episcopal Church, it was viral,” said Jones.
Anderson released the deputies from the July 11 afternoon session wearing a funny hat and added that she hoped she had just scored points in Bonnie Ball.
As the newest virus began to spread through convention (earlier in the convention there were outbreaks of upper respiratory and stomach bugs), Jones suggested that “if people are going to be going [to the website], we need to do something special.”
The Bonnie Ball website urged players and fans to make a donation to Episcopal Relief & Development’s NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund.
Stevenson is on the Episcopal Relief & Development board of directors and Jones suggested adding the fund’s logo to the Bonnie Ball website with the suggestion that people donate in name of the game.
“That was one of the best things we did,” Stevenson said. “This started out as something just for us to have a little fun with and then when people started catching on, we said if people are going to go there, we need to make it matter.”
The umpire said scoring the game has not been a distraction from deputy responsibilities. “This is the third convention I have attended and I have paid more attention to this convention, I have paid attention to what everybody’s said,” Stevenson said, due to the need to keep track for scoring purposes.
“The truth of the matter is we can quote back to you large chunks of debate because we’ve been playing such close attention,” Jones said.
He periodically e-mailed a list of scoring plays back home to Elder, who updated the website. There were no live updates to the site “because we’re deputies for the Diocese of Louisiana and that’s our primary role,” the umpire said.
Despite the fact that the House of Deputies is equipped with two huge televisions screens, the game does not provide for instant replays. “But the only rules [in the game] are decided by us,” Stevenson said, “and we can change whatever we want to change.”
“It’s completely arbitrary,” Jones agreed.
Not even the umpire’s fellow deputies knew their secret identity. In fact, Stevenson’s seatmate at the deputation table marveled at the meticulous notes Stevenson took during debate, and urged him to lighten up.
“Every time a person gets up to speak, I write their name down because you never know if they’re going to commit a play,” Stevenson explained to ENS during the seventh-inning stretch between the July 11 play and the final inning on July 12.
“We’re so glad that this has been taken in the spirit in which this was meant,” said Stevenson. “We were committed to stay out of the political. It was not a political engine; it wasn’t to be mean-spirited. It’s just good, clean fun” that was devised as a way “to blow off steam” that sometimes accumulates during General Convention.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.