Longtime coach earns a tip of the cap

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 2, 2007

WAKEFIELD—Milton T. Futrell thought he and his wife, Kitty, were going to attend a meeting at the Wakefield 4-H Center when they left their home in Courtland recently.

Imagine his surprise when, as he entered the front door at the center, 10 of his former Little League baseball players and their wives began singing &uot;Take Me Out to the Ball Game.&uot;

&uot;I couldn’t believe it,&uot; Futrell said with a smile.

&uot;Something like this never crossed my mind.&uot;

&uot;In fact, I almost didn’t make it.

I felt like I was coming down with a cold and told Kitty to go on without me.

&uot;She knew I had to be there though. This had been planned for me and she talked me into to going — said I needed to attend the meeting — my input would be needed.&uot;

The ballplayers, many who still live in Courtland, had been planning to honor Futrell for some time, said Harvey McLemore, who organized the event.

&uot;We finally all got together and decided to give him a dinner.&uot;

After the meal and dozens of stories about the boys’ home runs, stolen bases and faking a bunt,

Futrell was given a plaque and a baseball signed by &uot;all of those who were able to attend,&uot; said McLemore. Futrell had coached Courtland Little League baseball teams for almost 20 years.

&uot;It all began back in 1947,&uot; said the former coach &uot;I was standing in my front yard one day when four, barefooted, I’d say nine-year-old boys, came by. They were carrying some beat-up baseball equipment.

&uot;I asked them where they were headed and one of them said, ‘We’re going to play ball.’&uot;

Futrell, who had played high school baseball during the late 30s and was coached by Leroy Dail, who he says was the best high school coach &uot;ever to hit Southampton County,&uot; asked the boys if they would be interested in forming a little league team.

&uot;Well, I couldn’t get rid of them after that,&uot; Futrell laughed.

He said the team was in pretty bad shape the first year. &uot;We had no uniforms, no shoes and only used equipment.

&uot;The boys would rescue any of the high school’s cast-off bats and balls they could. The bats were too long, so they’d cut them off and if there was a crack or split, they’d nail it together and wrap it in tape.

&uot;I’ve never seen a group of boys as dedicated as this first team,&uot; he said. &uot;They just loved the game.&uot;

Futrell recalled his first team’s first game.

&uot;We played Branchville in a cow pasture.

By then, some of the other little towns had begun to form teams, but I can honestly say, ours was one of the best.&uot;

&uot;We didn’t lose many games.

In fact, as time went on, we won several district championships.

&uot;After the first year, things began to get a little better for the team,&uot; he continued.

&uot;We had a benefactor by the name of Jim Gillette Sr. He took an interest in the team and helped us with equipment.

&uot;We still had transportation worries, though, even though we sometimes had my car and Jim’s. &uot;I’d pile as many of the boys in my car as I could.

Then, after we put all of our equipment in the boot, we’d put a couple of the boys in, too.

&uot;Many times, I’d be driving down the road with a couple of the players’ feet hanging out the boot of the car.&uot;

Futrell, now in his 80s and a WWII combat veteran, said he figures he has coached about 30 different teams, composed of boys whose ages range from nine to 12.

Futrell decided, however, that it was time to turn over his duties to someone else in 1965 and gave up coaching. He said he felt this was an activity that had helped many of the youngsters in the neighborhood, however.

&uot;Several, I know, have gone on to play college ball and I can’t remember but one who got into any trouble.&uot;

One one player: &uot;We believed everything M.T. told us. He was never wrong.&uot;