American Legion and American pastime
If you think sports are over for kids in high school once the school year is completed, think again.
If you drive by a high school baseball field in one of the more populated areas of the state, seeing a group of people in unfamiliar uniforms and colors can become a familiar site.
Athletes from all over the state who can’t get enough of America’s favorite pastime join together playing the sport for American Legion teams, forming all-star teams of sorts and playing a rigorous schedule that takes up most, if not all, their free time during the summer break.
Such is the case for four local boys, Justin Fox, Brody Northcraft, Zach Perkey, and Mason Rine, who all play on the American Legion Post 3 team from Moundsville.
Their season started on June 9 and will continue through July. In between that time, the team will pack in at least 52 games.
Most of the games take place in the area except for a long road trip in late June that saw the team travel on an 11-day road trip to Elkins, Hickory, N.C., and South Charleston, W.Va.
Tournaments make up a large portion of the schedule. Moundsville hosted an Invitational tournament in the initial stages of the season. The trip to Elkins was also a tournament.
The biggest tournament of the year comes in the first week of July as the Beast of the East tournament was palyed. Over 100 teams in three age groups filled the Ohio Valley with baseball action taking place from New Martinsville to Weirton.
Moundsville Post 3 ended up winning all of their games on the final day of the tournament to finish seventh in a field of more than 40 teams, including squads from New Hampshire, Ontario, and Maryland.
As expected, it’s a different level of baseball being played. Teams are able to select from schools in a given area. Moundsville’s current team has players from John Marshall, Cameron, Magnolia, Bishop Donahue and Tyler Consolidated.
Students must come from schools in a given area in order to play on the team.
Of course, there is still some regional rivalry involved. Common local opponents include Weirton, who Post 3 played Monday night, and Wheeling. Ohio also provides teams in Cadiz, Steubenville, and St. Clairsville.
In West Virginia alone, there are 21 teams sponsored by the American Legion. While that may seem like a lot, it’s actually a big decline from a few years ago. At that time, West Virginia fielded 36 teams.
There were 22 teams at the beginning of this season, but a team from Huntington has since dropped out.
In this respect, teams are affected by numbers in a similar way schools are. While enrollment isn’t an issue as much, the number of schools an are can choose from is.
One such case is in Chester in Hancock County which no longer fields a team. When they did, they could only take players from one school in Oak Glen. Now players can try out for Weirton’s team.
Boys ages 15 to 19 are eligible to play. That means players who recently graduated high school and even one year of college can come back and play. They don’t even have to play or have plans to play baseball in college.
So is there that much difference in the level of high school baseball and a summer league?
Moundsville Post 3 head coach William Burkett seems to think so.
“In my opinion high school ball you have four or five kids that can hit. In legion ball, almost nine can hit. You get more kids coming together,” he said.
Burkett has been a main face for Moundsville Post 3 for a while. He coached for the first time in 1968. After that year, he didn’t coach again until 1983 and has been at the helm ever since.
In 2003, he led Moundsville to their one and only state championship.
With that many years under his belt, Burkett has seen almost everything happen, so Monday’s thriller in Weirton should be no surprise.
After Moundsville scored four runs in the first inning, Weir bounced back with six runs in the bottom of the second.
Eventually Weir built up a lead of five runs at 10-5 going into the last inning.
That’s when Moundsville unloaded on Weirton with 10 runs to take the lead once again.
Weirton attempted to make a rally of their own scoring two runs in the final at-bat, but couldn’t get any closer and fell 15-12.
Perkey was a nightmare for the opposition as he missed the cycle by a triple and batted in a staggering eight runs. Fox recorded the win on the mound while Rine provided two singles and Northcraft started in right field.
Moundsville Post 3 continues action today against Fairmont at 5:30 at John Marshall High School, followed by a trip to Clarksburg on Friday for a doubleheader.
On Saturday, Weirton will head to Moundsville for a game at 1 p.m. and on Sunday, July 19, Clarksburg will do the same.
Moundsville then will play in the area tournament at Wheeling starting on Tuesday, July 21. Should they win, they will then play in the state tournament in Morgantown from Wednesday, July 29 to Sunday, Aug. 2.