A movie would be the best outcome for a Ron Schmidt project involving a piece of Middlesboro history — the Little League baseball program that started back in 1953.
The significance of the program was the fact that the coaches — Roy Stapleton and Harry Hoe — wanted all children to be able to play the sport. As a result, the Little League team became one of the first integrated Little League baseball teams in the area.
In 1954, the baseball team won the state championship during a controversial game. According to Schmidt, at some point during the game, the mayor of Lexington walked onto the field and told Hoe that “this is a white field.”
Schmidt stated Hoe looked down at the field and responded, “This field looks green to me.”
The team went on to play in Greenville, N.C., a game the team lost.
Schmidt, who played Little League in 1961 and in the Babe Ruth League in 1962 and 1963 before moving from the area, became interested in the story several years ago while talking to Hoe.
Schmidt wanted to do an oral history on the team. He has met with the majority of the players and performed private interviews with them. The story is now archived in the Kentucky Historical Society Oral Commission in Frankfort.
Originally, Schmidt planned on writing a book, but has since moved in the direction of writing a movie screenplay about the team. He said people today tend to see movies before reading a book.
“I think (the story) would be pretty compelling in a movie,” said Schmidt.
On Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Express, Schmidt met with some of the players from the 1953 and 1954 teams to have a roundtable discussion about life back in those days. Players showing up for the event included Billy Dean, Houston Ball, Eddie Ballenger, James Box, Van Curtis Hodge, Curtis Johnson, Charlie Nagle and coach Stapleton.
One story told about life in Middlesboro during that era involved something known as the taxi cab stand. “Something else was going on besides driving taxis,” said Johnson.
According to Ballenger and Box, underage individuals could go to the stand and get alcohol illegally. During that time period, Middlesboro was still wet, ultimately becoming dry around 1954.
Another topic discussed during the round table was the strictness of parents in those days. Each member on the team stated parents were not as strict as most people think. Johnson said kids knew what parents expected of them and they knew how to conduct themselves.
He said parents laid the ground rules and the children obeyed. The crew also said neighbors did not care to call a child to task if they were caught doing something wrong.
Hodge said many kids he and the team members were around were good kids. “I think a lot of that came from playing baseball,” said Hodge.
The crew also talked about how jobs were different during that era as well. Most members of the team delivered newspapers, while others carried coal or shined shoes. During the teen years, working in the Middlesboro Tannery was common.
Many agreed playing baseball taught them many life lessons, including being a team player and how to handle the ups and downs in life. They also stated their parents taught them to respect others and the importance of hard work.
As far as integration was concerned, many on the ball team did not see it as such a big deal. According to Dean and Ball, most people in the community believed it was the right thing to do.
“All we wanted to do was play ball,” said Johnson.
The kids did not worry about color when it came to baseball or many other things in life. They only had one thing on their mind. And, according to Johnson, that was “Can you hit, can you throw, can you play ball.”
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.