Tuesday, May 24, 2016 || By Rev. Dr. Regi Ratliff || OPINION
For decades, Maywood was recognized for producing top-level athletes in multiple sports, but there is one common sport which links many of these former greats. Unfortunately, today it’s almost non-existent in our community.
Baseball may not have the same appeal as some of the aforementioned sports, but to many of the multi-sport athletes listed below, baseball was their first love.
The beauty about baseball is that it’s a sport that tests your patience, challenges your instincts and increases your hand/eye coordination skills. Baseball involves nine different players on one baseball diamond with nine different skills.
As I reflect on the lore of baseball past in the Village of Maywood, I reflect on how the Rivers, Corey Cooper Sr., Henderson, and former Major League Baseball player and state champion Michael Woodward affected the game of baseball in this town and beyond.
Other multi-sport athletes from Maywood who played baseball first include: Milton Banks, Sean Banks, Jason Gipson, Aaron Peppers, Greg Rieves, Willie “Bubba” Williams, Gerald Chamberlain, Terry Murphy, Ivan and Rueben Blair, Keith and Kevin Block, Johnny Blakemore, Randy McFarland, Earnest Hubbard, Moses Green, Eric Moore, Patrick Winters, Torvis and Teter Robinson, Keith and Vince Jackson, Randy Melton, Lee Thompson, Robert Kinkle, Darwin Montana, Van Washington, and Phil and Orlando Ratliff.
They all roamed the field on defense with style and grace. My brother Orlando, also known as “Onion,” was one of the best catchers in Maywood baseball history. It was magical watching Cooper smack three home runs in one game and watching Timothy Lee Burton tag a home run in all-star games.
What a scene to witness the Little League and Senior League field brimming with baseball fans who would come to Maywood from nearby and afar.
What a treat to hear the clink of the aluminum bat just before the baseball took flight in the outfield. The calling of the game from Mr. Block. The roar of the fans after a player hit a home run or made a nice catch in the field. How can the fellas forget our pretty ladies, who watched on the side from the bleachers? We guys trying our best to hit a home run, because chicks dig the long ball?!
Right next to the field is the Fred Hampton Pool, where many kids played in the water and sometimes watched the games through the fence. How can one forget about Mr. Branch, president of Maywood Baseball? Mr. Hildebrand, who sold snacks at the concession stands? On the weekends, and sometimes the weeknights, people would be all around the field when the better teams clashed.
There were 16 Little League baseball teams. Eight in the American League and eight in the National League. Some of those teams included First Federal, Maywood Proviso, Auto Renewal, Robinson’s, Local 7771, Shelton’s, Wards, Horsemen’s and Zayer’s.
There were also 12 Senior League teams. Some of those teams included Robinson’s, Bacall’s, Chat’s Corners, First National, Horsemen’s, West Maywood, White Way and Flash Car Wash.
Let’s not forget about the minor league teams. This is where many of us began our baseball career. We played on the baseball field annexing Tenth Park. There was the Braves, the Dodgers, the A’s, the Red Sox and the Royals, just to name a few.
Each league had a playoff and World Series, which drew even larger crowds. The Little League World Series was played at Winfield Scott Park on 17th Avenue. Those players who were fortunate enough to make the all-star team in the Little League and Senior League were very competitive against teams in other towns.
Many athletes from the Village of Maywood who excelled in other sports found baseball to be their first love. Frankly speaking, if it wasn’t for baseball, many athletes wouldn’t excel in other sports. We owe a great deal of gratitude to those tremendous volunteer coaches, managers, umpires and score keepers who worked tirelessly to make sure we players were prepared each and every game. The sport of baseball brought kids together from all over the Village. It was decades of fun for thousands of kids in the Village of Maywood until the sport started to die in the mid-1990s.
The sport of baseball is practically non-existent in the Village of Maywood. Maywood Bucs Founder “Speed” Alexander has the Little League Charter. Unfortunately, Coach Alexander only received interest for 16 players and had to cancel all scheduled games this season.
The other challenge with resuming baseball in Maywood is finding a field for our children to play. Currently, the Senior League baseball fields are owned by Concordia University, River Forest. I would like to thank the geniuses at the Maywood Park District and Village Hall who decided to sell the one piece of ownership the village could be proud of.
Like many black urban areas, interest in baseball has dwindled to practically nothing. These days, most young athletes are trying to become the next basketball star. There are AAU teams throughout the nation who travel all over the country. Parents spend thousands of dollars on registration fees, monthly fees, athletic gear, travel fees, food and hotel fees.
Basketball alone has become a multi-billion business for coaches who start at the AAU level for elementary and high school athletes. The problem is that some coaches in the neighborhood and corporations are exploiting our children. It’s a huge money-maker for them.
Some claim they’re doing it for the children, and maybe they are; but, I’ve witnessed some coaches yelling at their young players after they’ve sustained an injury, pushing them to keep playing. If a coach has to push a child that hard to feed his family, maybe he should get a job!
The other problem is most of these young athletes have a lot of wear and tear on their bodies by the time they finish high school, subsequently suffering injuries as they enter adulthood. Athletics has become the new academics; hence the 75 percent graduation rate at Proviso East High School last year.
If a responsible sport such as baseball is to make a comeback in the Village of Maywood, there needs to be a community wide effort to register our children.
Will that happen? Time will tell. However, there must be a change in mindset. A contingency plan for kids must be a necessity, not a want. There are children from the village who are playing organized baseball in other communities.
For years, baseball was a great asset to the youth in the Village of Maywood. It was a benefit for the community physically, mentally, economically, and socially. Not only was it good for those businesses who sponsored a baseball team, but the sport built many relationships that still exist years later.
Baseball is America’s pastime. If you want to raise a well-rounded student athlete in the Village of Maywood, where he/she will learn valuable skills that will prepare them for their adulthood years, let’s make a serious community effort to teach our children about the sport of baseball and bring it back to the Village of Maywood. Neither you nor your child will regret it.
Some athletes from Maywood who excelled in their respective sports:
Track and Field: One of the greatest athletes in Track and Field history was 2x State Champion, 2X NCAA Champion, and Olympic Silver Medalist Greg Foster. State Runner- Up Joseph Vernell (100 yard dash). Two time State Champion Larry Howard (Hurdles) State Baseball and Football Champion Lee Strange. State Champion (100 Meters), State Champion Tim Simon, All State Football Player and NFL XXXIII Super Bowl Cornerback Ray Buchanan. High School All American Football Player Phil Macklin, and Big Ten Champion Larry Howard (Indoor Track & Field).
Football: All State Player Fred Keys. All State Football player, All State Baseball player, State Basketball Runner Up and former Big Ten Player Corey Cooper Sr. (Purdue). Former All- State player in Football, and the number two All- Time leader in receptions at Iowa State University, Tracy Henderson. Former All- State player, All Time leader in receptions at Northwestern University and former NFL wide receiver Richard Buchanan. Former All- State player and former Nebraska Cornhusker Corey Cooper, Jr. All State player and former Michigan State Wide Receiver Terry Love. Former High School All American and current NFL player, Kyle Prater. All-State player and NFL Super Bowl Champion Jerome Sally. All-State player and Super Bowl XLVI participant Sergio Brown. Finally, All-State player and NFL hopeful Terrell Clinkscales.
Basketball: Basketball is considered by some to be the supreme sport in the Village of Maywood. There are a few basketball players who grazed the playground courts throughout Maywood prior to hitting the big time at Proviso East High School. Just a few of the great ones include: Former NBA Champion Jim Brewer, Grady Rivers, Al Nunness (who coached the late musician Prince as a high school player). Former All- State Player and NBA Star Steven Hunter. Player of the Year, NCAA Runner Up (Illinois), former NBA player and current University of Illinois Men’s Basketball Coach Dee Brown, All- State Player, NCAA Final Four Participant, and NBA Champion Shannon Brown. All- State Player, Earnest Hubbard. Three time Player of the Year, Former NBA Star and NBA Championship Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. State Champion, University of Wisconsin scoring leader and NBA Champion Michael Finley. State Champion, NCAA career leader in scoring (University of Colorado), former NBA player and the current Boy’s Basketball Coach at Proviso East High School, Donnie Boyce. State Champion, and former first round player Sherrell Ford … (Note: As a former wrestler, I cannot, under good conscience, fill this article with anymore names of former basketball players. In my humble opinion, that would be uncivilized).
Baseball: Alas, we cannot forget about the greatest sport in Maywood history. There is an abundance of State State Champions, State Runner Ups, State Place Winners and State Qualifiers. Here are just a few State Champions: Jessie Glover (98lbs.), Willie Staples (12lbs.) Eric “Bones” Fields (105lbs.) Vernon Hansen (112bs.). Two time State Champion, NCAA All-American and current Proviso East Varity Wrestling Coach Reggie Wright (126, 132lbs). Let us not forget about the 10 State Team Championships, which is tied for the most Champions in the State, and the most top four finishes in state history. Contrary to popular belief, Wrestling is a sport which has produced more team State Championships than any other sport at Proviso East High School. (Basketball & Baseball are tied with four).
Female sports stars: I would be remised if I didn’t mention the ladies from Maywood who have excelled in various sports. The first such star athlete who comes to mind is Antoinette Grimes. Grimes was a 3 sport athlete in Basketball, Softball and Track in the 1980’s. Grimes was the essence of grace and could fill it up on the basketball court. Other great female athletes include: Arlieda Crawford (Softball/ Volleyball), Patty Noftz (Track& Field/ Softball/ Basketball), and the most decorated female athlete in Proviso East history, All-State Volleyball Player, 4x NCAA Champion (Penn State) and NCAA All-American Arielle Wilson.
Other hometown stars: Finally, there were those who were raised in Maywood or who were connected to Maywood, but took their skills to other schools. Those individuals include: Bo Flowers (Baseball, Basketball/Walther Lutheran), Tony Freeman (Basketball/ St. Joseph), Clifford Scales (Basketball/ St. Joseph), Sterlin Mahan (Basketball/ St. Joseph), Darwin Montana (Basketball/ Marshall), Josh King (2X State Wrestling Champion, Hinsdale South), Carl Foreside, Jr. (State Champion, Wrestling/ Montini), and Isaiah White (3X State Champion, Wrestling/ Oak Park). VFP
Rev. Dr. Regi Ratliff is the founder and executive director of Eternal Light Community Services, located at 200 S. Fifth Avenue in Maywood. Eternal Light provides the following programs: public speaking, financial literacy, health and wellness, and entrepreneurship classes to youth, ages 5-18. Contact Rev. Ratliff at (708) 813-4722 to register your child for one of our programs today.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.