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Legion: N.C. Legion baseball and softball shut down for the summer

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — American Legion baseball debuted at historic Newman Park in 1936.

Except for a two-year hiatus (1942-43) during World War II, it’s been a a summer ritual in Salisbury.

Legion ball returned in 1944 for a 30-game season, made a quantum leap in popularity with the 1955 team’s run to the World Series, and managed to stay relevant through the years, despite changing attitudes and changing times and competition from other baseball organizations.

But a proud streak of 76 consecutive local Legion seasons has ended. COVID-19 concerns have wiped out Legion programs for this summer. That includes not only junior and senior Legion baseball, but also the fast-growing Lady Legion softball program.

Legion had canceled things at the national level a week ago, erasing regional play and the popular World Series in Shelby from the calendar.

But hope remained for local Legion seasons to take place, a little later than normal, culminating with a state championship tournament, perhaps even a North Carolina vs. South Carolina, bi-state championship.

Those hopes were dashed on Monday when the state’s executive committee opted to follow the guidance of leaders at the national level.

″The Department Executive Committee met and voted on the spring and summer youth programs for the North Carolina American Legion,” said Mark Cauble, American Legion Baseball director for the state. “All youth programs for the 2020 spring and summer have been canceled.”

Cauble, is also the team manager for Rowan County. He understands the safety issues, but like a lot of people, he hates to see Legion shutting every door and window in mid-April. Legion seasons normally get going in late May, as high school seasons conclude.

North Carolina is under a stay-at-home order through April 29. Schools are closed through May 15.

“The area commissioners recommended to the Department Executive Committee that any decision be delayed until Gov. Roy Cooper’s office provided new guidance,” Cauble said.

That recommendation was denied by unanimous vote.

So there won’t be Legion baseball in Davidson County for the first time since 1945. There won’t be Legion baseball in Belmont for the first time since 1956.

There won’t be Legion baseball anywhere in the state. That’s a tough pill for a lot of sports fans to swallow.

“They wanted to make a decision here and now,” Cauble said. “But things may look a lot different on May 15. They make look different two weeks from now.”

South Carolina is one of the states that voted to wait on making a decision.

While there will not be Legion baseball this summer, as we know it, it’s still possible baseball may be played by Legion-age teams this summer.

High Point Post 87 has taken a leadership role in an effort to create an alternate summer league.

Cauble said Rowan County is part of the discussion.

“We’d be willing to try to field a team whenever we’re allowed to field a team,” Cauble said. “It wouldn’t be Legion, but we’d try to make it as close to Legion as we can get it. We’ll do what we can to provide a place to play for those young men who already have lost high school and college seasons.”

There’s little doubt there will be a many players itching to compete in some format.

•••

Little League International, which has more than 6,500 programs in more than 80 countries, has asked all local leagues to suspend operations until May 11, but hasn’t yet canceled the season.

Even though legion baseball has been cancelled in NC for the summer, we’re currently working on other options to get our guys on the field this summer once restrictions are lifted. We will provide updates as we move through uncharted waters.

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