By Cliff McCollum
The recent wins by Opelika youth baseball teams this summer, while exciting, aren’t necessarily new for the town, by any means. Fifty years ago this July, 1963’s “Boys of Summer,” the Opelika Dixie Youth All-Stars, all 11 or 12 years old, proved powerful as they took home the sub-district tournament in Tuskegee.
Team members included Jimmy Yates, Lance Davis, Chuck Golden, Stan Martin, Wayne Barker, Lynn Hunnicutt, Ronnie Wilson, Jimmy DuBose, Trippi Abercrombie, Homer McCollum, Robert Strickland, Derek Davis, Jerry Carrington and Alan Whitman. The boys were coached by Jack Meadows and Bill Martin.
“We had great coaches in Coach Meadows and Coach Martin,” said Derek Davis, who was the team’s pitcher. “Ronnie Wilson’s dad was also an unsung hero – he was a great coach, too. Great men, and a lot of fun to learn from.”
After their first game ended in a loss to the Phenix City Americans team, the Opelika boys rebounded, defeating Wetumpka 9 to 5 and beating Auburn.
“The coaches were telling us that if we lost another game, our season would be over,” McCollum said. “We didn’t want that to happen, so we just kept winning.”
The team then held both the Phenix City Nationals and the Tuskegee team to one-hit games, thanks to the pitching of Opelika’s Davis.
During the Tuskegee game, Opelika only got two hits off of Tuskegee’s pitcher Wayne Sistrunk, including Davis’ home run that won Opelika the game 1-0.
“It went down to the wire,” Sistrunk said. “No one scored a run until the last inning. It was a really good pitching duel. It was a no-hitter for five innings for both teams.”
Opelikan Doug Horn, a classmate of the participants and Sistrunk’s cousin, said the Tuskegee game was one of the highlights of the tournament.
“It was just an amazing ball game,” Horn said. “You had two great pitchers going at it, and even though it was an all-star game, no one was able to get a hit for the longest time.”
The team then faced the Phenix City Americans again in what would be a tough fight. Opelika pitcher Wilson pitched a scoreless game until a Phenix City player hit a home run in the sixth inning, tying the score at 1-1. Strickland came in for Wilson, keeping the Phenix City team from scoring again and taking the game into an extra inning.
During that eighth inning, Davis scored the tie-breaking run after Yates got up to bat and the Phenix catcher missed the pitch, allowing Davis to steal home.
“We were a bunch of guys who were all friends and who had all grown up together,” Davis said. “We had been teammates and competitors our whole lives, but this was an opportunity to go places small town boys from Opelika had never been before, and we all experienced it together.”
With their win at the sub-district tournament, the team went on to Selma for the district tournament, where they lost the first game, won the second and eventually lost the third game to Montgomery.
“Even after we lost the district tournament, we were still proud to have made it that far,” Davis said. “Most of us had never been as far as Selma before, and that was a big deal for us.”
The “Boys of Summer” went on to continue their athletic careers in middle and high school at Opelika. Most of them lettered in several sports, including baseball for Davis, Wilson and Strickland.
Looking back 50 years, these players say they don’t remember all of the details, but they remember the good times they shared with one another.
“It was a great time for all of us,” Davis said, “something special that not every kid got to do, and we all get to hold on to that.”
Writer’s Note: My father, Homer McCollum, was a member of the “Boys of Summer” team and a source for this article; please chalk that up not to lazy journalism, but a sincere desire to learn more about one’s own parent.