It was sometime during the 1970s on Midelburg Island while awaiting a league softball contest that I ventured over to the Logan Civic Little League field to spend some time watching the slightly younger folks swat the baseball. I was but 16 years old, myself.
Having never had the opportunity to play Little League ball - mainly because my parents never drove or even had a driver's license - I still played sandlot baseball and softball nearly every day as soon as the weather permitted. Looking back on things, I probably had more fun playing the game on the various homemade fields than I would have in an organized league. After all, some of those coaches and managers could be quite demanding, which at times seemed to take the "fun" out of the games.
On the aforementioned day, however, watching the Little League contest at the location we simply referred to as the "the island" drew my interest primarily because of one player. That young player was a lefthander who did not resemble the other boys in physical stature, but his playing abilities rivaled even the best diamond performers. From that day forward, I tried to watch every single Little League game in which John Mounts participated. He served as an inspiration to me, and I'm sure for many others.
You see, "Little John, or "John Boy"" as some folks called him, was not just a special athlete, but a special person. For all of us who were blessed to know him, I may simply be "preaching to the choir," but for those who never knew him, allow me to present to you a glimpse of an individual who, when born, was given a life expectancy of just 20 years. John died Wednesday evening, March 20, at Logan Regional Hospital at the age of 61. How fitting it seems, as it marked the first day of spring and the first game of this year's major league baseball season.
At first glance, John seemed to appear hunchbacked, a result of the rarity of his internal organs being located unusually close to his lungs, which in the end, I'm told, caused a shortage of oxygen getting to his brain, resulting in a coma.
I'm sure there are hundreds of stories that his many friends could share concerning John Boy's life. For me, though, it is mostly all about what I shall aptly call the "fields of dreams." From his Little League days until the very end of our softball playing days sometime in the 1990s prior to the death of the game in Logan County, as well as other southern locations, John Boy was a featured player in the various leagues and tournaments that were played nearly every weekend somewhere in Logan County or elsewhere.
A savvy place hitter, John possessed good speed and always hustled on the base paths. His unusual physical build made for a somewhat graceful scurry around the ball diamonds he traversed during yesteryear, which included hundreds of games.
There used to be a lot of places in Logan County where young people hung out, and the former Trailer Club at Stollings was one of them. I was not a frequent visitor there, but on one occasion following a ball game, I discovered that John Mounts was a "ladies man." I could not help but notice that he never seemed to miss a dance out on the floor. One might say he was "smooth."
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, softball of every type was dominant in the sports realm of Logan County. There were men's league at Chapmanville, Man and Logan, with teams participating in leagues from Sharples, Blair, Harts and Huff Creek of Wyoming County. Each league had from eight to 12 teams, with separate leagues being played at Whitman and Midelburg Island. There was a ball field at Wanda that was used in Logan league play and even a field at what became the Rita Mall across the river from Lyburn.
In addition, there was a Women's League with teams from across the area participating. In fact, the first time I ever saw my former magistrate assistant Lisa Ellison was when she was playing third base in a league at Whitman. Oddly, it turns out my current assistant, Brandi Bias, was a shortstop/second baseman for a ladies team at Lake. You will just have to take my word that playing softball was and is not a requirement needed to work in my office.
The early '70s also saw the beginning of the Miss Softball America League in the county, and all of those early pioneers' efforts laid the groundwork for very competitive and championship teams at Man, Chapmanville and Logan. I even recall Sharples fielding a squad at one time.
There were softball tournaments held nearly every weekend throughout the summer at Logan, Whitman, Man or Chapmanville, as well as Oceana, Madison, Williamson, Branchland, Hamlin and other regional areas. But for many teams, we participated in weekend tournaments in places like Charleston, Parkersburg, Huntington, Beckley, Summersville, Racine, Anstead, Kermit and many other in-state localities. Trust me when I say that the Logan County teams won more than their fair share of these tournaments and were well-respected.
Of course, men's fast-pitch softball was still going strong during this time and squads like National Cable Repair were renowned in many parts of the nation where they displayed their talents. There even were a few guys who played both fast and slow-pitch softball. If I'm not mistaken, John Mounts was one of those players.
By Labor Day of every year, slow-pitch regional qualifying tournaments had been conducted throughout the state and qualifying teams advanced to play in the state qualifying tournament, with the top four finishers there advancing to play in major tournaments that were conducted in Cincinnati, Cleveland and other qualifying cities with as many as 500 teams from different states participating in the double elimination events. Logan County was always well represented in these tournaments, as were squads from Boone, Wyoming, Lincoln and Mingo Counties.
In fact, some of the best teams ever to participate in these tournaments had played in Logan events or leagues. Lynn Coal of Boone Co., Bandytown of Boone Co., Branchland of Lincoln Co., and Hunt's Pharmacy of Oceana are four super talented squads that immediately come to my mind.
On the local level, although there were many locally sponsored teams, Chafin Coal, Napier's Exxon, The Brotherhood Club, Triadelphia Bit of Man, Mine Repair Specialists (MRP), The Letter Shop, Browning Furniture of Chapmanville, Huff Creek, and a talented team of all-stars which simply went by the name of Steele's, were just a few of many very good teams that often butted heads with each other in various tournament action.
It was at one such competition in a World Qualifying Tournament at Parkersburg that for me brings back fond memories of John Boy Mounts. Parkersburg events were always competitive and filled with the best teams in West Virginia. But it just seemed to me that the tournament directors always tried to pit Logan County teams with early morning games against tough squads, which was designed to benefit their locals.
A team co-sponsored by Baisden's Recycling, B&M Repair, McGrew Tire and Bunch's Exxon was one of several local squads that competed in the tournament that determined which teams advanced to play in the huge Eastern World Tournament. John Mounts was an important starting player member on that team.
I recall that the team I played on, which I believe was The Brotherhood Club-sponsored squad, won a rare 2-1 contest against the top-seeded team in the first game and then advanced to the title game with several other wins. As my team continued to win each game of the three-day tourney, so did Baisden's Recycling. In fact, we cheered them on in games, and they did the same as each of us advanced.
I refer to this tournament as the "miracle" tournament because the Baisden's bunch came to Parkersburg with a purpose. One of their key players and a good friend of mine, Mike Browning, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and at the time the prospects did not look good for him. On the way to Parkersburg, the entire Baisden's team stopped at a Charleston hospital to visit with their friend and teammate.
That team, with arguably their best player hospitalized, played with a passion that hot summer weekend. And, suddenly, there was only two squads playing for the tournament title - us and them.
Our team was a tremendously talented group of guys, but on a humid Sunday afternoon in Wood County, the John Mounts-led team knocked us off for the title, and deservingly so. Fortunately, both squads qualified and advanced to Cincinnati, where later on Labor Day Weekend, both fared well.
Softball teams became like family at times, spending weekends together on ball fields and in hotels, and Baisden's squad was no exception. Looking back at things, that team came together and played for their hospitalized teammate, who they did not know was going to recover nicely in due time.
Ten former members of that team recently went to say good-bye to their "buddy" and former teammate as he lay dying in our local hospital. Just a few weeks ago, some of those same guys, along with many other former softball players and others, said goodbye to another local softball legend, Johnny "Seed" Adams, a member of our team that fateful day when John Mounts and company took first place honors in a most prestigious event.
As sports editor of this newspaper at the time, I was pleased to write the tournament story and take pictures of the winning team. One picture showed the first-place trophy to be taller than John Boy. As I think John Boy would like, I now will list the former guys who, like so many others, cared about the little guy with the big heart. Those players include:
Benny Eplin, the late Terry Lawson and Wade McCown, Harold Noe, Harold Scott, Brian Sigmon, Randy Curry, Keith Adams, Danny Fleming, Brian Noe, Richard Browning, David "Buzz" Davis, Larry Ray Collins, Tom Curry, Sid Mounts, and, of course, Mike Browning and John Mounts.
John Mounts was laid to rest yesterday. And, like so many others, I am proud to have called him my friend.
Dwight Williamson is a former writer for the Logan Banner. He is now a magistrate for Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.