Little League players, coaches, parents, and other attendees remove their hats in respect for the National Anthem during Johnson County’s Little League opening ceremony. Photo by Joey Icenhour
By Tim Chambers
The sound of baseballs hitting the bats can now be heard at Cunningham Park, one of the most beautiful Little League Baseball Parks. But where and when did it all start? I learned that one of the first Little League teams we ever had was formed by Tom Reece, who took a group of boys over to Shady Valley to play. It appears like they were teams from here; Shady Valley, Doe Valley, and Laurel Bloomery would get together on weekends to play the game of baseball. Another pioneer that can be credited to getting the game started was Dr. Don Tarr.
The Little League here owes a great thanks to Danny Herman Trucking and Johnson County Bank, who have sponsored teams down through the years and several other businesses. And many good men have left their mark on the Little League legacy. The late Brad Reece, Gary Woodward, and Steve Marshall were just a few who gave their heart and soul to the league only to be called home at such a young age.
Woodard passed away at age 49, just two weeks after leading his All-Star team to a win at Daniel Boone in the 12-year-old tournament. He could always be found working on the field at Cunningham during his idle time. So how did Little League come about nationwide because ESPN now shows their All-Star game every fall, including the Little League World Series.
Here is what I could gather:
In the 1920s, the American Legion formed a baseball program for teenage boys that exists today. American schools also started baseball programs. But there was still a void for pre-teen boys who wanted to play in organized games. Other smaller programs cropped up from time to time but did not catch on beyond local areas.
In 1938, Carl Stotz hit upon the idea for an organized baseball league for the boys in his hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Stotz had no sons of his own, but he often played ball with his young nephews, Jimmy and Major Gehron, and wanted a way to provide an organized program for them.Carl gathered several of the neighborhood children and experimented with different equipment and different field dimensions during that summer. The program still did not have a name, and no games were played.
Today, many kids grow up in Mountain City hoping to be a Clyde “Hardrock” Shoun, the Mountain City boy who pitched in the major leagues and threw a no-hitter. I prefer to remember the men like Reece, Woodard, Marshall, and Herman who have their handprints all over Johnson County Little League. To the boys of summer, best of luck this year.
See team photos in this week’s edition and in our scrolling gallery at the bottom of our main page!