Limestone Youth Baseball oversees an Instructional League (for boys ages 4 and 5, and girls, ages 4 through 6); the Pinto League (boys 6-8), the Mustang League (boys 9-10), the Bronco League (boys 11-12), and the Pony League (boys 13-15).

The Instructional League is the newest venture, having started in 2003, and it is also the most novel, because it includes girls. The rest of the league does not include girls because they have their various age venues within the Limestone Girls Softball Association. League officials point out that the Instructional League is not T-ball. The youngsters start right out looking at live pitching provided by the coaches.

The organization’s Mission Statement states: “Our mission is to provide a quality baseball program for the youth of the Bartonville area. The program provides both a recreational outlet and a fundamental instructional program to develop players to excel for Limestone Community High School when they come of age. Participation in our program instills positive values of teamwork, sportsmanship, and community involvement.” And as a footnote, someone has added, “As a bonus, when all the right ingredients flow together, we might even produce a big leaguer or two, i.e. Mike Dunne and Jim Thome.)

In addition to completing plans for the season openers on Tuesday, June 1, league officials are already looking ahead to next season. Limestone High School is going to expand its student parking lot later this summer, and the current Pony League diamond will be paved over. As a replacement, Limestone Youth Baseball proposed construction of a new diamond north of Joe Griffith Field, and the Limestone High School Board of Education and administrators have approved the plan.

However, LYB will have primary responsibility for funding the approximately $35,000 project, and plans are underway for fund-raising projects. The program has 65 local sponsors for the regular league programs, some of whom have participated most of the 50 years. Their support has been vital in keeping the organization operational. Incidentally, many of these sponsors were Little League players in their youth, and are now “giving back” for the opportunity they had to grow up with the game.

The youth program has always had tremendous support from Limestone High School, where the program now spreads out over a wide area of the campus, including the two girl’s softball diamonds at the far north end, the two original Little League diamonds beyond the varsity baseball diamond, and the Pony League diamond at the south end. The new field will actually consolidate activities closer to the concession facilities.

A brand new League asset this year is the establishment of a Web site (www.lybb.org), where schedules and pertinent information about the program are available. A baseball skills camp was started last year for all leagues to give added credence to the values in the mission statement. It will be held this year on June 7-10 for kid 4 through 8 years, and June 14-17 for those 9 through 14, with Limestone High School coaches instructing in proper fundamental skills. The organization awards a Bobby Schmitt Memorial Scholarship annually to a LCHS senior who played Limestone Youth baseball and four years of LCHS baseball. It also hosts an annual golf outing to raise funds for the league.

Yes today’s sophisticated program is a far cry from the little summer recreation program that Keith Holloway envisioned in the spring of 1954. I have told the story of Bartonville Little League’s beginning before, but I think it deserves another shot on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Holloway was coach and gym teacher at Bartonville Grade School, and when the Board authorized funds for a summer recreational program in 1954, he thought a Little League program could become a part of the activity. He talked to his former high school coach, Eddie Stonebock, who had recently started such a league at Manual, and Bruce Saurs, who had set up a league at Central, and he became enthused about the possibility of trying it in Bartonville. Consequently, he invited the fathers of several of his students to a meeting at the grade school, and 15 showed up. And at that meeting, Bartonville Little League was born.

Holloway warned that it would take a lot of groundwork and help from a lot of parents to get this thing going, and as Art Hattermann, one of the founding fathers, and the eventual first president, said later, “We found out that he was right. “We were short on manpower, found it hard to interest people in our project, and even ran into a shortage of players, but still things went along more smoothly than you might expect.”

Funds, as usual, were a problem, and obtaining sponsors who would buy uniforms and equipment for the four teams seemed like a stumbling block to those fellows at the first meeting. But one of them, Don Stone, abruptly left the meeting, strode across the street to his brother Wayne’s funeral home, and came back shortly with a check for $300...and Stone’s Mortuary became the league’s first sponsor. Spurred by that success, the group rounded up four more sponsors before the next meeting, so Laidlaw Wire and Lauterbach Lumber combined on one team, and Bartonville Bank and Keystone signed up for the other two.

In addition to those sponsorships, the Bartonville School District paid the director’s salary the first year, a booster ticket sale helped defray some of the expenses, and the concession stand, managed by Mrs. Hattermann, brought in additional funds. That “stand,” incidentally, was a far cry from the current concession facilities. The Hattermanns set up two card tables behind the rickety old backstop and brought soda pop and candy that they stored in their garage, and set up shop each night. As Art said later, “Betty and I had to haul that stuff down and back all the time, but we needed suits and bats and balls, and the concession money helped, along with the sponsorships.”

Officers who led the league through the crucial first year were: Hattermann, the president; Howard “Bow-Wow” Lane, the vice president; John Sanderson, secretary; Don Stone, treasurer (possibly because he had Brother Wayne’s check in tow), and Bill Stagg, publicity chairman (and that was no doubt because Bill’s wife was Bessie, who owned and operated the “Bartonville News” with an iron fist.)

Double headers were played two nights a week on the Keystone diamond, the first game starting at 5:15, and it had to be concluded, by hook or by crook, by 6:15 so the second one could get in before dark.

So, the league was off and running, but it was obvious that it needed a broader base, and the following year the officers invited boys from Oak Grove, Monroe and Pleasant Hill districts into the fold. But the growing pains were just starting, and the next week we will continue with the reminiscences of the first two seasons and the move to Limestone High School, where the Bartonville Little League eventually grew into the present-day, robust Limestone Youth Baseball Program.