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Local Little League history dug out

By Staff | Jun 29, 2010

Individuals displaying early Hughesville Little League memorabilia at the June meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society were (front l-r): Eileen Nuss Cooper holding Poust Drug Store team uniform, Mason Minier modeled a Legion uniform, Bill Boatman handles a catcher’s mitt, (rear) Jake Stiger and Bud Haynes with ball gloves.

HUGHESVILLE – “I was sure there’d be boxes of statistics about the Hughesville Little League somewhere. If there is I didn’t find them,” said Bill Boatman, program speaker at the June meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society.

Instead, digging out information was challenging, tedious and time consuming. The task included phone conversations with former players and research travel to newspaper archives and the Little League museum. “I had a great time doing this,” said the former player who in order to be recognized by many he phoned, introduced himself as the husband and brother-in-law of townies Shirley and Barbara Confer.

The project became a family affair as Boatman enlisted the computer expertise of daughter, Hannah Minier who organized photos and text for the power point program.

The Boatman’s grandson, Mason Minier, modeled a wool Legion uniform. The 10-year-old led the “Pledge of Allegiance” and recited the Little League pledge instituted in 1954 to be inclusive to world teams.

The time frame for the forming of Little League in Hughesville seems to be 1947. Word of its intent was broadcast from a truck driving up and down streets mounted with a public address system. “It had a Pied Piper effect and people turned out in droves,” Boatman said.

A ball diamond was built in a park having already been donated in 1906 by local industrialist DeWitt Bodine. Little League founder Carl Stoltz is said to have personally supervised laying out the field.

At first only Hughesville boys played, but in order to form several teams, membership was expanded to include those from Picture Rocks.

Eileen Nuss Cooper said her cousins known as the Andrews boys, Don, Jim and others would walk to Hughesville in order to play.

Remarks at the meeting came from former players. Bill, eldest of the DeWire boys had his father Albert as coach. This began a long line of Bill’s brothers including Jim, Phillip and David DeWire.

Bill Foresman told of going to the ball field where a sort of “round robin” game was devised when there weren’t enough for a team. “There was always somebody there,” he said.

Little League had been a big part of Garman Zehner’s life which he said continued to a son and grandson.

Jean and Ron McGregor, parents of Michael McGregor for whom one of the present day fields at the school complex is named for, was also in attendance.

Among those relaying stories by phone included Lynn Vandine, Dick Gray, Reese Davis, Larry Wilkie and Dr. Don Lundy Jr.

Vandine provided a picture of the only year he played at age 12. Like many rural lads, he was unable to be involved as he resided in Jordan Township.

A tribute to the late Larry “Fireball” Keeler was noted for his exemplary job as announcer. “I especially remember my name being called which at that moment made me feel like I was somebody,” Boatman said. Many credit Little League as a self esteem booster keeping boys busy and out of trouble.

Don Myers, who’d been a member of the Hughesville Travelers adult team at the time said, “Any wooden bats we busted was gathered up, nailed or screwed together and duck taped for the Little Leaguers. Several individuals present substantiated Myers remarks.

A partial equipment price list of the era quoted uniforms as $9 each, $4 for a glove, bats at $3.45 and $2.50 for balls.

Vivian Stiger Mills provided a 1949 program, the earliest found to date. Like many girls who were ready and able but not allowed to play, Vivian helped at the refreshment stand.

Having fathers who were coaches didn’t help wanna–be’s, Eileen Nuss and Pam Whipple get on teams either.

Some early coaches included Jim Nuss, Cliff Warg, Ned Shuler, Emanuel “Dutch” Smith, Jim Starr and phys-ed teacher, Randall Wagner. Cletus Merrill was listed as league president in 1949.

Some sponsors were the Textile League by mill owner Charles Walters, Stavings Drug Store and Swisher’s Store. The Rotary organization has continued sponsorship from day one.

Donating heavily to the cause were department store proprietor Harry Levine and Julius Reithoffer, carnival ride owner.

Clarence “Yank” Birdsell was remembered as “Baseball Fan Extraordinaire.” Many recalled the aroma of the senior George Poust’s cigars which lingered in memories much as it had on the field as the staunch fan slipped from his pharmacy duties to view games.

Players endured the inevitable comparisons to preceding family sports stars. Boatman said he often heard, “You’ll never be as good as your dad.” His mother had the added fear of his breaking a leg sliding into home plate as his father had done. He recalled her screams on an occasion when the seemingly ominous catcher was Burr Boston.

Opening day saw parades through the streets accompanied by the high school band and fire trucks. One year was highlighted by special pomp and circumstance when a flag ceremony included David Voneida, Bud Hall, Lynn Schaefer and Danny Wilkie, The boys entered the field each holding a corner of the flag. Dr Renn was on the mound while Clint Starr threw out the first pitch. Hughesville teams often advanced to playoffs after having several successful years.

“Annual seasons ended with a tureen suppers in some church social hall. Each 12-year-old received a miniature gold baseball ending their Little League careers. Probably we all had dreams of going on to the big leagues,” Boatman said.

Some baseball memorabilia is on loan to the ELHS museum where staff is able to scan your photos or bulletins on site. Summer hours are Saturdays and Sundays, noon until 4 p.m. at 66 South Main Street, Hughesville.