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New Legion-level baseball league discussed in wake of season cancellation

With the announcement by the American Legion baseball state executive committee cancelling the 2020 regular season and playoffs, some Area III teams have discussed alternatives.

Traditionally, American Legion baseball seasons open around the middle of May, when many of the high school programs have completed play in their respective postseasons. Regular-season Legion schedules run through June, with July and the first weeks of August set aside for area, state and regional tournaments playoffs. The American Legion World Series is hosted in Shelby to crown a national champion.

A conference call hosted by the Mocksville Legion team, with a number of Area III squads participating, discussed the formation of a league this summer.

According to Wil Huneycutt, athletic officer for Stanly County’s Legion baseball team, Stanly did not participate in the call but is interested in possibly participating in the new league.

“I understand the concern of the committee and their decision to protect the players…I think the general hope was that we could wait until May 15 to make the decision,” Huneycutt said. “We would have liked to have had more time to decide before we had to cancel the whole summer.”

Stanly’s Origins

The cancellation of the 2020 season stops a streak of 34 years for Stanly fielding an American Legion team. Stanly first played American Legion baseball from the 1940s until 1962 when the team was disbanded.

Tony Morris, former Stanly County athletic officer and Area III commissioner, said a group of players and other post members from those days, including Ed Snuggs, Don Montgomery, Tommy Maiden, David Talbert and others, talked about restarting the team in 1985.

Morris said Don Montgomery helped to spearhead an effort to raise $20,000 to get the program started along with raising money annually. Included in the fundraising was a banquet with former St. Louis Cardinals  player ”Vinegar” Ben Mizell.

Money included a portion of the purchase of a tarp to go around the fence. (Note: The preceding two paragraphs were updated as a clarification.)

The team was reformed in 1985 and had played 34 consecutive seasons, including at Pfeiffer University for home games for the first time last season, until the committee’s decision.

A Quick Choice

Making the decision so quickly was a surprise to many, according to Huneycutt.

The Legion executive committee’s decision to cancel the season came against the recommendation of the American Legion’s baseball/softball committee, according to an email obtained by The Stanly News & Press.

Mark Cauble, the American Legion Baseball director for North Carolina and team manager of the Rowan squad, said in the email he was disheartened with the decision and was at a loss for words.

“I believe the intent is to protect our youth and I would be in support of that. I do believe they may have made a decision a little in haste,” Cauble said in the email.

Adding to those comments was Area III commissioners James Rorie, who said the committee did what they could do with their recommendation to the executive committee.

A League Of Their Own

Despite the state’s ruling, many of the Area III teams have expressed a desire to conduct a league of their own, pending on whenever the state decides to lift the stay-at-home order.

Huneycutt said himself, along with head coach Jordan Sells and assistant coach Zac Brown, have not reached out to any of the county’s players yet due to not wanting to get players’ hopes up.

“We’re early on in the process,” Huneycutt said. “A lot of players missed most or all of their high school senior season…a lot are going to play in college and would like to play this summer.”

Should teams play in the proposed N.C. 3 American Baseball League, with efforts being led by High Point’s squad, Huneycutt said he and the staff will do what they can to get community and player support for a team.

The Legion Area III Commissioner reminded team officials should a new league form, they will not be allowed to wear American Legion uniforms or insignia during games.

Rorie added in the email while some people say Legion will lose players to travel ball, those teams and leagues are likely in the same situation in finding places to play.

Stanly’s athletic officer said it is possible the new league could play games even with a shortened season as late as July.

“Collectively, our area wants our kids who have traditionally played to have as close to a typical Legion season as possible,” Huneycutt said. “We’re working with the other teams in the area to make that happen.”

Sports Editor’s Note: Mike London of the Salisbury Post contributed to this story.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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