American Legion has always made contributions

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back in the 1950s and even through modern times the Atmore American Legion post was noted for its many community contributions. Always the mainstay behind good gospel singings and Saturday night square dances, this organization was the leader in various aspects of community activities.

There have been so many leaders of this organization through the years that I dare not try to mention them all because I know I will leave out some of them.

Back in the 1950s they brought Grand Ole Opry stars to perform for dances at their downtown Legion Hall. Many famous gospel quartets came here to perform through their sponsorship.

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American Legion baseball was another project they delighted in. They assisted in military funerals and were always present in parades that depicted national observances.

In 1966. the local post was awarded the Hugh Overton trophy for distinguished service to the state. Officers that particular year were Madison Black, Joe Daniels, James Wearren, Jim Gleason and Ted Fretwell. There are countless other officers in the organization that I will mention in upcoming columns. I could fill several columns just mentioning those leaders of this organization and I am gathering information each week on these fine officers to use in future columns.

Speaking of baseball, the Legion and 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 in 1961. Not only did merchants raise funds, but so did local firms like 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 Stirlin 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 to 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 baseman 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, 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 Earl Miller participated. Those fine players were just two of several outstanding players on that tournament team.

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.

Here of late Atmore has 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. But, it was all those great teams here in Atmore that I remember the most.

Next week we will get back to news of people places and events in 1966.

“…yes, it always whispers to me…..those days of long ago….”

Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

This week Lowell's column talks about the American Legion.|File Photo