Playing ball for 50 years

Tradition: The all-volunteer HCYP program is in its 50th season, making it the county's oldest sports organization.

April 15, 2001|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It wouldn't come out of left field to refer to Doug Meyer and Anthony Tangires as "boys of summer." The 41-year-old Ellicott City residents have been friends since they joined Howard County Youth Program's baseball program in 1968. More than three decades later, they're still active in HCYP baseball, now helping with their sons' teams.

This is HCYP's 50th spring of offering baseball, making the all-volunteer program Howard County's oldest youth sports organization. And alumni such as Meyer and Tangires have fond memories of days when, mostly, they lived and breathed baseball.

"HCYP was a neat organization," says Meyer, once a pitcher for the Cardinals. "Everyone knew everyone else, and there was a lot of friendly competition. There weren't even umpires. ... We'd just grab someone's dad and start playing."

FOR THE RECORD - Because of erroneous information provided by the Howard County Youth Program, an article here last Sunday reported that this spring marks the 50th baseball season for the organization and its predecessor, the Ellicott City Little League. It is the 49th season, the first game having been played in June 1953.
The Sun regrets the error.

"I loved being a catcher," says Tangires, who watches his son play the same position. "I see my son on the same fields that I played on 30 years ago. It's a tradition that continues and just keeps getting better than ever."

HCYP began with discussions at the weekly Ellicott City Times. In 1950, editor Charles Gerwig and two Times employees, Keith Fisher and Harry Walker, along with Earl Maisel, talked about starting a youth baseball league.

After visiting Carl Stotz, founder of Little League baseball in Williamsport, Pa., the men formed the Howard County Little League in March 1952. That spring, 60 boys ages 8 to 12 tried out for four teams. In 1962, the league became HCYP.

Early games were played at the northwest corner of St. John's Lane and U.S. 40, now a shopping center at the heavily traveled intersection. For a number of years, opening day meant a parade on Ellicott City's Main Street with school bands, firetrucks, a band from Fort Meade and the players.

In 1953, games moved to newly named Kiwanis-Wallas Park, still the club's center on more than 11 acres at Route 144 and U.S. 40.

Anton Wallas, a Polish immigrant who with his wife operated a one-pump service station and country store, donated the land to the Kiwanis Club of Ellicott City with the stipulation that it be used for the county's youths. Wallas had wanted to give his land to the county government on the condition that care for his many cats be guaranteed after his death. The county wouldn't agree to that.

In 1991, after what Ellicott City attorney William Glasgow, a longtime referee, coach, commissioner and compiler of a club history, said were zoning issues and other disputes involving a building on the property, the county Department of Recreation and Parks acquired the property and entered a long-term lease arrangement with HCYP for its use.

HCYP has grown steadily. The baseball program, which has about 1,500 players, includes six recreational leagues: an instructional league for 7- and 8-year-olds; a Little League (consisting of the international, the minor and the major teams for 9-to-12-year olds); the Pony League for 13- and 14-year-olds; and the Colt League for 15- to 17-year-olds.

HCYP sponsors travel, tournament and Sunday league teams for players with higher skills, and fall baseball, a family day, a Memorial Day tournament and the Dayton Raiders, a summer team made up older players who compete in the Baltimore Metropolitan League.

The club has added boys and girls basketball, volleyball and fast-pitch softball, which replaced slow-pitch about three years ago and has 600 to 700 girls. The club once included football, says President Howard Carolan, but in the early 1980s, that program folded amid financial controversy.

HCYP baseball is overseen by a program director. This year, Dave Cooke, who has been involved at many levels of the baseball program, holds that position. Commissioners head each league. About 20 volunteers manage the baseball program's day-to-day operations, with help from others.

"We wouldn't be able to offer this much baseball to kids if we did not have a dedicated corps of managers and coaches," says Cooke. "These men and women typically start when their children are beginners and continue coaching for five years or more."

Doug Meyer and Anthony Tangires still see some of their former coaches on the field today.

"It's a blast from the past," says Tangires.

"HCYP baseball was and is a great thing," Meyer says. "When I run into guys I don't see much, HCYP comes up all the time. It's the one thing we have in common. It's the glue that holds us all together."

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