Steeles Automotive of Lima, Ohio began sponsoring a team in 1971. Gary Coates was the sponsor and Dennis Helmig was one of the first players, all of whom were based in Northern and Central Ohio. John Geckle, Larry Garrard and John Brenner were among the early stars of the team that was very competitive in regular season and national tournaments. Steele’s joined the National Slo-Pitch Conference in 1979 and made a name for themselves by finishing in top tier of many tournaments. Around the same time, the Company got into the softball equipment business with bats, balls and gloves and marketed these items as the team traveled around the country.
Dave Neale’s teams in Cleveland began using the bats and he became an investor in the softball company, promoting their equipment with his Nationwide Advertising Team. Meanwhile, Steele’s team added Jerry King, Herman Rathman, Chic Downing, Denny Jones and other top players in 1981 and finished 2nd to Howard’s in the ASA Super Championship that year.
The next year, Steele’s added Joe Young and joined Dave’s Cleveland Competitors team in the Professional Softball League. When the League folded at the end of the 1982 season, Dave took over ownership of the company and sponsorship of the team. The first year, 1983, he combined his pro team stars Mike Macenko, Steve Blanchette, Dana Andry, Doc Booker and Jim Bizzell, with Dennis Graser, Phil Higgins, Rick Trudeau, Cliff Carpenter and others to form a top team, finishing 2nd to Jerry’s in the USSSA Major World Series.
As the years went on, many championships were won and Steele’s became the best-known team in softball both on the field and in the balls and bats it sold. For the players, the softball season went from February to November with tournaments and exhibitions in cities and towns throughout the United States, ranging from recreation fields to big-league ballparks where Mike Macenko, Bruce Meade, Charles Wright, Craig Elliott, Greg Furhman and others wowed crowds of thousands with prodigious home runs which sold countless bats and balls. From 1984-1991, Steele’s was featured in Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN, countless local television sports shows and other publications. They were truly a business school model for how to sell a product through marketing a top team with relentless exposure.