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North Carolina Little League team reunites after 65 years
Mar 14

By JIMMY TOMLIN
High Point Enterprise

HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) _ Jay Hohn couldn't sleep. It was only 5:10 on a Tuesday morning _ way too early for a 77-year-old retiree to get out of bed _ but he was too excited to sleep.

In a few hours, the Archdale man would be reuniting with a group of friends he hadn't seen in more than 65 years _ teammates from his 1951 and 1952 Little League baseball teams, the High Point Red Sox _ to relive and celebrate some of the fondest moments of his life. Of their lives. It may not seem significant to some people, but for an 11- or 12-year-old boy _ especially back then, during the era of guys like Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson _ baseball was huge.

Even Little League.

``I remember when I got my uniform and took it home, I hung it on the outside of my closet,'' Hohn recalled with a chuckle. ``I didn't put it in my closet _ I hung it on the door so I could look at it. Yeah, boy, that was a big deal.''

More than 65 years later, it's still a big deal.

On a Tuesday morning two weeks ago, as teammates arrived at the Bojangles' restaurant on South Main Street, looking for a man wearing an Atlanta Braves cap _ which Hohn had worn so the others would be able to recognize him _ you could feel how happy they were to be together again. You could sense it in their camaraderie, still there even after decades apart. You could see it in their faces as they studied an old team photo, trying to remember players' names and positions. You could hear it in their stories as they reminisced about hard-fought games, tough opponents and even one miraculous game-winning play that earned them a division championship.

``OK, so here's what happened,'' Hohn said, recounting the game-winning play for probably the third time.

The others grew quiet, eager to relive the story again as Hohn held court. They smiled and nodded their heads as Hohn described how, on a hit that had rolled all the way to the fence, the Red Sox center fielder chased the ball down and threw a strike to the shortstop, who in turn threw a strike to the catcher, who tagged the runner just before he crossed the plate. The breathtaking play ended the game, giving the Red Sox a one-run win and the division championship.

``The crowd went wild,'' Hohn said. ``I remember people jumping over the fence to get out on the field, and we were all piled up at the pitcher's mound.''

Hohn and teammate Jan Hinshaw, who attend church together, began discussing a Little League reunion months ago, but it was only within the past couple of weeks that they got serious about making it happen.

``I had a class reunion recently, and about a third of our senior class is deceased,'' Hohn said. ``So I got to thinking, `You know, if we're gonna do something, we'd better get busy and do it.' So we started trying to track these guys down.''

Of the 11 players, five made it to the reunion _ Hohn, Hinshaw, Richard Cross and Ronald Marshall (all of Archdale), and Phillip Fulton (Kernersville). Keith Sedberry (High Point) had planned to attend, but didn't make it, and Bobby Lackey (Jamestown) was out of town. Two players have died (Johnny Hodgin and Julius ``Dumpy'' Yates), and Hohn was unable to track down two other players, Johnny Green and Ronald Jarrett.

For more than an hour Tuesday morning, the five teammates stood near the back of Bojangles' talking about old times _ the good, the bad and the ugly.

Phillip Fulton remembered trying out for High Point Little League at Brentwood School when he was about 10 years old.

``The coaches all got together and decided who was gonna get a uniform, and I got a uniform,'' he said. ``I was one happy camper, because that was a really big deal.''

Fulton also remembered how important game day was, and how he never wanted to miss a game.

``I used to go to Quaker Lake Camp down near Julian for a whole week in the summertime,'' he said. ``We only had 11 players, so you didn't dare miss a game. My daddy would drive to the camp and get me and bring me back to High Point to play a ball game, and then he'd take me back to the camp.''

Games were played at the old Richland Park, which was located near where Business 85 now intersects with South Main Street. The players all remembered there was a slaughterhouse beside the park.

``Home plate was right where the bridge is now, and the field went toward the creek,'' Hohn said.

Richard Cross, whose father Colon was the head coach, remembered that the team lost its first four games.

``And then we started winning,'' he added, ``and we won our division that year.''

The Red Sox actually won two division championships, the first in 1951 and again in 1952. At that time, there were eight teams in the High Point Little League _ four in the National League and four in the American League _ and the Red Sox won the American League division twice before finishing as runner-up for the city championship both years.

Cross brought with him a tarnished trophy the team won for one of those division championships. It had belonged to his father and was handed down to him when his father died. With no one to pass it down to now, Cross and his teammates hope to donate the trophy to the High Point Museum.

As the players admired the old trophy, they joked about which had more rust _ the trophy or their nearly 80-year-old bodies.

``We've got a lot of rust, but he's just got a little rust,'' Hohn said of the batter on top of the trophy.

``Yeah,'' Fulton added, ``but with his scars, he's probably got a new hip now and two new knees.''

The teammates all laughed. At 77 or 78 years old, some of them have likely had knee and hip replacements of their own.

They have something else, though _ the memory of those championship seasons so long ago, and of the guys they spent those two summers with _ and that's something no surgeon can replace.

``We had a lot of good times together,'' Hohn said. ``We made memories we'll never forget.''

___

Information from: High Point Enterprise, http://www.hpenews.com


By The Associated Press, Copyright 2018