Atmore baseball teams have storied history

Published 5:00am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In 1961 countless Atmore merchants contributed funds to help pay the cost of sending our Atmore Senior Little League team to the Williamsport, Pa. Senior Little League World Series. Not only did merchants raise funds, but so did local business  like  Vanity Fair, Swift Lumber and Southland Telephone Company. That tournament, by the way, was played on a separate field just a block away from the world famous Little League Series playing field.

If my memory serves me correctly, this was the first year for 13-16 year old Senior Little Leaguers. The managers were Sterling Fancher, Frank Patrick and John Holland. We earned a berth in that national series by downing Harlan, Ga. by a score of 2-1 in the South Regional Tournament in Tuskegee.

A few days later we boarded the bus for the long trek to Pennsylvania. The bus was filled with players and managers and several local residents who went along to offer support. It was especially exciting for me because I was going to do the play-by-play broadcast so that local residents could hear the game on WATM.

There was a sad note that day as the bus prepared to depart. Someone came up and informed us that Shelton Luker, a local businessman who graciously supported all our local sports, passed away. I remember prayers were offered by several on the bus who were close friends of Shelton.

The trip offered us all the opportunity see famous homes and landmarks. The Eisenhower home and Hershey’s Candy factory were particularly interesting.

After arriving at Williamsport we were housed at the Naval and Marine Training Center near the ballpark.

Players on that team were Eddie Fancher, Claude Steele, Larry Troutman, Keith Russell, Ricky Webb, Leon Phillips, Rodney and William Blackburn, Robert Hughes, Todd Rodgers, John Wingard, Chuck Hagaman, Ronnie Headley, Preston Barnett, Wayne Lowery, Buddy Sharpless and Wayne Godwin. (I hope I did not leave out anyone).

Unfortunately, we were knocked out of the tournament by a New Jersey team in a low scoring game.
Again, back in those days Atmore was regarded a leader in community baseball teams.

There was another tournament of interest where the community chipped in. This was the 18-year-old Advance Babe Ruth World Series Tournament staged in Newark, Ohio in 1979. The All-Star team members were from Atmore, South Monroe County, Northwest Florida, Brewton and Andalusia.

We were awarded an opportunity to play in that tournament by defeating North Carolina in the Regional Tourney at Andalusia. It was a fluke play that caused us to win that Covington County game. Trailing by a run in the last inning with two runners on and two outs in the last inning, my son Mark hit a towering infield fly ball that the third basement apparently lost in the lights and was dropped allowing the tying and winning runs to score.

You might say that was an “eighteen hundred mile error,” the round trip distance from Atmore to Newark. Again, we had good support from local residents as several, particularly from Atmore and Walnut Hill, Fla., accompanied the team to watch them play in that Ohio city.
Atmore played in other outstanding state and regional tournaments. One was the event when Lou Vickery and Ear Miller participated. Those fine players were just two of several outstanding players on that tournament team. Unfortunately, I was out of radio at that time and I did not follow those teams then, as I did in earlier years. But I do know that era was just as important to the town as all the other baseball days.

One other tournament, not related to our local teams, was the 1990 NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. My son Bryan, who was a member of the AUM team, competed in that series.

Unfortunately, our team finished runner up to the local Lewis-Clark team, which captured that event in the seventh game. Darron Sutton, the son of Molino’s Don Sutton, also played on that team. Unlike his father, who was an outstanding professional pitcher, Darron went right to the top of his chosen field as a play-by-play announcer and national analyst. In later years my family had the opportunity to become closer acquainted with Ron Sutton, Don’s brother, who was an official with the State Department of Corrections.

Only here of late has Atmore sent some good teams to tournaments and a couple of these teams have done very well. We had a lull for a spell when teams did not do so well. But, Murray Johnson tells me “Atmore is on the way back.” He hopes, with good management, good players and a renewed interest, we can reach that level we enjoyed so many years ago.

I hope this is the case. But, it was all those great teams from years back that I remember the most.

Now, here are a few more names of our friends from the past who have passed on. Some we have written about and some will be written about in future columns.

Claude Kelly, Don Kelly, Alton Keller, Bo Keller, Geronimo the crop duster, Radford Kirby, Frank Currie, Nina Stephens, Nick Reeves, Fred George, Lawrence Cooper, Root Lowery, Gladys Middleton, Guy Martin, Jack Madison, Lavon Martin, Martin Ritchie, Phil Sokol, Bob Morresseite, Frances Blackburn, Jim White, Alton White, Devon Wiggins, Shirley Martin, Bill Moseley, Crockett White, Freddie Centenni, Harvey Cook, George Harris, Harold Byrd and Dewitt Parker.

Would you believe I have literally dozens more whom I will name in future columns?

Next week we will get back to more news of people, places and events from our yesteryears.

Lowell  McGill can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net.

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