By Dwight Williamson For Civitas Media
July 8, 2014
I witnessed something recently that I have not seen in quite a while. There were two “kids” actually participating in sports in their family’s yard. That’s something one doesn’t see much of anymore. To beat it all, the two boys were kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Soccer in Logan County, wow, what ever happened to pitching horseshoes? It set me to thinking.
The late Bea Orr, who, while an employee of the Logan County Board of Education, was most instrumental in the introduction of girls’ softball to Logan County. She even tried to implement soccer into the county, but was rudely subdued. I remember the beginning of what was the Miss Softball America (M.S.A.) program. I happened to be Sports Editor of this newspaper at the time. Although I then played softball myself, at least twice weekly in a league and nearly every weekend in a tournament somewhere, I really didn’t think the female sport would evolve into anything much. However, I did all I could to promote the sport by taking team and individual pictures across the county. Managers would regularly telephone me with the results of the previous day’s game.
There were endless hours spent working with these children at Logan, Man and Chapmanville by dedicated people like the late Charles Spencer and so many others too numerous to list. A ground ball that went through the shortstop and outfielder’s legs and rolled to the fence was reported as a home run. The early stages of girls’ softball in the county were oftentimes humorous. Looking back, there is not enough good that can be said about the dedication over the years by so many people, including parents who transported their children to and from practices and games. Long evenings in the sun were common practice for anyone, especially those volunteering their services as umpires.
Girls’ athletics in Logan County is to be admired, as it is certainly respected across the state of West Virginia. Chapmanville, Man and Logan have for years produced outstanding softball teams and the endeavors of those associated with the programs has produced numerous college scholarships for young ladies of the area. State championships are always just over the horizon each year for one or the other of the three schools. Girls’ basketball has also proven to be sometimes fascinating and productive in Logan County. People like Ronnie “Mule” Ooten, Randy Robinette and Randy Epperly, girls’ coaches at Chapmanville, Logan and Man, respectively, have done outstanding jobs over the years.
Ooten and Epperly are former softball players, themselves. The soft spoken Epperly was a tough out to get with his slap hitting style, while “Mule” Ooten was a stubborn out in his own right. Those were the days, my friends. What happened?
There was a time during the 1970s and 80’s when men’s’ softball leagues were dominant as the sport of the county. The Logan League at one time consisted of at least twelve teams. Man and Chapmanville varied from ten to twelve teams each in its leagues, and the Whitman League always had more teams than any of the rest. There was a softball tournament nearly every weekend at Man, Logan, Chapmanville, Sharples and even Harts. Very competitive teams came from all parts of the region to participate in the local tourneys. There were many tremendous athletes and several super good teams in the slow pitch sport which attracted the young and old. Fast-pitch softball was unfortunately a dying art at the time, although one can never discount the achievements of teams like National Cable Repair that proved its worth across the country in various tournaments. Several area slow-pitch squads made their marks as well, winning tournaments across the state and always faring well as representatives of the county in various tournaments in such places as Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Lexington, KY., and many other areas. Area teams often competed in regional tournaments in Ohio that featured 500 or more of the best teams in the country.
Just to mention a few of some of the best players I can think of might surprise those readers who are not of the time frame in which I write. No one who ever watched Johnny “Seed” Adams blast a softball over the fence at Whitman or anywhere else will ever forget the big, lumbering third baseman, who I never once saw make an error at his position. State Senator Art Kirkendoll, one of the few stars of both fast-pitch and slow-pitch, would probably tell you today that his participation in area softball was a key reason why he wound up winning his first political position as County Commissioner in the biggest political upset in Logan County history. He was a tough competitor, a clutch hitter, and remains so in his position today.
There were people like John McCloud and Jim Evans, both of whom I savor as being like second fathers to myself, who worked long hours each day then spent their evenings and most weekends coaching and managing a mixture of players who always had their own agendas to deal with. People like Butch Linville of Man, Luther Sheppard, Bob Meade, Bill Cline, Carl Bledsoe and the late Wayne Curry were fixtures at the various ball fields, whether coaching, umpiring or playing the sport. It took the unpaid efforts of people like Ted Murray and old man J.B. Lowe to run various leagues in the county. Lowe even handled county horseshoe tournaments which were quite popular at one time. He was near 80 years old when he gave up on organized local athletics.
It took sponsors like Carmello and Kathy Pansera, Janice Smith, Lucky Jones and so many others across the area at the time to buy the uniforms, which usually consisted of a shirt, shorts and a cap per player, and to pay the $75 to $100 entry fee to most tournaments on weekends, as well as the league entry fees. Some sponsors even purchased the Dudley and Worth softballs every team used. That could prove expensive when guys like Ray Stacy, Bobby Joe Hager, Max Stollings, Jeff Swanner, Chuck Napier and Seed Adams regularly deposited the balls into the creek or rivers near the various fields.
One has to wonder what has happened. Gone are the many independent league basketball teams that competed in the county at both Logan and Chapmanville. Teams came from Man, Chapmanville, Harts, Sharples, Lenore and even Williamson, and were always talented. For a few years, until the words liability and insurance came into play, there was even a rough and tumble Flag Football League in Logan County that was as good as it gets.
There have always been tremendous athletes in southern West Virginia, both male and female. Many participate in Middle School and High School athletics and some go on to the college level. However, there are many people who love various games of sport who do not play at high school or college levels, but would love the enjoyment of league sports. At a time when “texting” seems to be the sport of this era, I would think that with the given obesity problems always mentioned in West Virginia, various sporting leagues should be in the realm.
My high school physical education teacher was Jack Stone, a former assistant Logan High basketball coach under Willie Akers. I always liked Jack’s style. The former WVU punter would simply bring out a rack of basketballs each day, and we would “have at it.” We got more exercise than any jumping jacks could produce, and we enjoyed it.
I, like many others, would like to see independent sports revived in Logan County. I believe it would be beneficial in more ways than many people realize. I am convinced it would also serve as a deterrent to the current drug problem. Organized sports create a family of competitors who, one way or another, always seem to take care of one another. It is not in my immediate plans to be a player in any league. You might say I’ve had my day in the sun already. However, it would be great to see our younger folks participate.
For starters, how difficult would it be to get enough sponsors to award, let’s say $1,000, to a first place winner in a county horseshoe tournament? Why not?
Sometimes, in my opinion, looking back at the past can paint a pretty picture for the future.