Baseball! Celebrating a Community Pastime

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"Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!...America's game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws..."

-Conversation with Whitman (4 July 1889) as quoted in With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906) by Horace Traubel, Vol. IV

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The first published reference to Collierville’s connection with baseball reaches back to its pioneer citizens. Dr. Elgin K. Leake (1850-1930) is credited with founding the Collierville Athletics in 1874. According to oral histories, the Athletics toured the South playing local baseball teams. The Memphis Daily Appeal reports on July 21, 1876 “the Athletics, of Collierville, played a game with a picked nine club at Chattanooga Wednesday.” In August 1876, the Athletics played the Memphis Reds in Memphis, which the Memphis Daily Appeal hyped as a “great event in the way of outdoor entertainment.” Collierville entered the game as the reigning amateur champions of Tennessee with a large number of fans, however, the team failed to score a run in the shutout victory. The next day the paper reported, “it was the best game of any visiting club of the season except the St. Louis Reds.” 

During the first half of the 20th century, baseball was an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the Collierville community. In 1932, the Neely Manufacturing Company in Collierville secured a contract for 60,000 baseball bat blanks to be produced at the local mill. By March 1934, the Collierville Herald reported that “several thousand ‘Louisville Sluggers’ left Collierville last month for Louisville where they will be made into the famous baseball bats bearing that name.”

Adult recreational teams flourished with colorful names like the Collierville Bobcats and the Poplar Pike Giants. These teams played neighboring community in Eads, Mt. Pleasant, and Fisherville among others. Baseball games that matched married women against single women where hosted at church picnics and civic groups hosted games for charity.

In 1946, the Collierville Rotary Club challenged the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5066 in Collierville to a game of donkey baseball. The Collierville Herald reported the game was attended by a large and enthusiastic crowd and “was a scream from start to finish.” The VFW team won with runs scored by Vance Carrington, Carl Brewer, Dr. Richard Kelsey and Fred Hart. Click here for a humorous short film about donkey baseball (1935).

Youth Baseball

Baseball continues to unite the community into the mid-twentieth century through Collierville’s youth. Informal games were played in family yards among children and in sandlots and pastures. Organized baseball and softball teams are mostly for adults until recreational Little League teams emerge in the 1950s. The Optimist Club of Memphis, sponsored by the Collierville Athletic Club, was the only group to offer competitive organized baseball for Collierville youth prior to 1958.

The Optimist League offered a Junior team for boys 9-12 years old and a Senior team for boys 13-15 years old. The Optimist teams played at the Memphis Fairgrounds. Prior to the formation of the Collierville Little League in 1958, the Optimist team leagues were directed by Coah Fred Medling, Athletic Director at Collierville High School.

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Little League Baseball

Collierville’s first official Little League formed in March 1958. The Collierville Booster Association and Collierville Athletic Association worked together to develop a youth recreation program for boys and girls of all ages, including a Collierville league of baseball teams. That summer, under the direction of Coach Joe Clayton, Athletic Director at Collierville High School, sixty boys ages 8-11 signed-up to play Little League baseball. The boys played on four teams named for major league teams—the Yankees, the Cardinals, the Giants, and the Braves. The formation of this program paved the way for the popular recreational baseball Collierville has today. Above, Collierville Little Leage team, August 6, 1959. Courtsey of the Collierville Herald

The first summer of the Collierville Little League, Coach Clayton borrowed uniforms from the Whitehaven Little League program. Uniforms were sponsored by local businesses, which meant Collierville players wore uniforms with the name of Whitehaven businesses. The baseball diamond was west of Collierville High School at the present day location of the University of Memphis Collierville Campus. For away games in Memphis, Kelsey Brothers Chevrolet of Collierville provided a pick-up truck for team travel. Joe Clayton recalls 10-12 boys riding in the back of the truck on the way to Memphis.

Baseball Img 3Members of the Optimist League Junior Team, Collierville Herald, August 8, 1957.

In April 1974 the Collierville Board of Mayor and Alderman passed a resolution that created the successful Parks and Recreation sports program we know today in Collierville. The creation of a Recreation Commission meant that regular baseball leagues and other sports could be sustained and expanded. During its first summer, 3 tee-ball teams, 5 pee-wee teams, 4 junior teams, one senior team, one girls softball team, an American Legion team, 2 men’s teams, and 4 men’s softball teams were offered. Over 300 people participated in baseball alone. 

Below, 1970s Collierville Summer Youth League teams. Team on left, coached by Tommy Hart. Submitted by Philip Smith.

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Negro League Baseball

In 1920 the Negro National League was formed as the first franchised baseball league for African Americans. Over time, other African-American leagues emerged, like the Negro American League in 1937. These leagues allowed for organized black baseball teams to form throughout the country including the well-known Memphis Red Sox. In 1949, Charlie Taylor founded the Collierville Tigers, a negro baseball league team in Collierville. Many unknown small-town teams like the Tigers played within the league at that time. The Tigers played on a field located near West South Street and Sycamore Road in Collierville and traveled to play teams in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. 

Below, Collierville Tigers players (left to right): Henry “Shane” Mabon, James A. Cowan, and Charlie L. Taylor. Submitted by Linda Brown. Other members of the Collierville Tigers included: Robert Cowan, Robert Turner, O.B. "Jab" Owens, Willie D. "Topsy" Mabon, Hubert Turner, Junior Huston, Sammy L. Phillips, Bubba C. Dunigan, Willie B. Dunigan.

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