Perry League’s noteworthy legacy
- Published: June 29, 2023
By coaches Yunus Brevik and Margi and Rob Gay
Travel back in time to Yellow Springs of the late 1950s, and you might cross paths with a young man working at PK Lumber to save money for college, determined to obtain a degree in elementary education.
Sometime during his five years with the lumber company, Donald Perry founded a Little League program in the village. His college plans and his time with the lumber company were interrupted by a nephritis attack in 1957. He then worked as a night custodian at Mills Lawn, saving up for college and eventually attending Central State University. Graduating in 1963, he went to work with Columbus Public Schools, all the while continuing to volunteer countless hours to children in Yellow Springs.
His very full life ended too early, on his 34th birthday in 1967. The late James McKee said that Donald “gave his time to help young people when he didn’t have any time to give and many of us will miss the smiles and the help and the friendship he provided for the kids of Yellow Springs.”
Three years after Perry’s death, the baseball league he founded was renamed Perry League in his honor. Perry’s legacy has been going strong for more than half a century.
And there’s another prominent figure in Yellow Springs history without whom T-ball wouldn’t be possible: Wheeling Gaunt. Enslaved from birth, Gaunt was born around 1812 in Carrollton, Kentucky. A deed from January 1845 documents Gaunt having paid for his freedom from enslavement. By 1893 Gaunt had 13 different parcels in Greene County to his name, including houses, lots and farm acreage. These brief bits of information omit a long and incredible life that we highly encourage you to become familiar with.
In January 1894, when Gaunt’s health was failing, he deeded a nine-acre tract of land to the Village. Many years later, through the efforts of Ruth “Pat” Fields Matthews, this land was officially dedicated as Gaunt Park. It is an honor to have our T-ball games on one of the many baseball diamonds in Gaunt Park, thanks to the life and generosity of one of Yellow Springs’ most impactful villagers.
And so it is that we hope to honor the legacy of those who came before us. Our third Friday of the season, June 16, started off a little cooler than previous nights, with temperatures in the low 70s. The two inches of rain from earlier in the week left a few muddy spots throughout the infield, with a significant little mud puddle in the batting area. Coach Rob was prepared and brought a doormat. This helped batters avoid standing in a few inches of mud, yet water still seeped through the mat, leading to many children noting “My feet are wet” as soon as their bare toes, or crocs, or sandals, or flip flops, or the occasional cleats or boots or shoes, stepped on the mat as they prepared to hit.
Another fun legacy of T-ball is seeing previous years’ shirts show up on players. Several players attended the June 16 game wearing the multicolored tie-dye shirt from 2021, including Willa, 5, who showed up for her first game of the season to hit a first-attempt line drive into the grass, surprising herself with the power at which she connected. Marty, 5, also came with the multicolored tie-dye shirt, and he too had a line drive. His younger sister, Camilla, experienced success at the tee as well, with the distinct oomph of a 3-year-old. Rowan, 4, sported a vintage orange Perry League shirt. She hit the ball and stood in place, seemingly unsure of what to do next. Fortunately, her loving adult support was there to guide her to first base.
David, 7, was first to bat for the second week in a row. He said he’d attempt to be first again next week. Though T-ball is noncompetitive, several players still find ways to create their own challenges for themselves or with friends — challenges related to the speed at which they can run to the outfield for warm-ups, or related to climbing the fence in the outfield, or fielding balls, or how many balls they can manage to carry at once or fit into their hat, or how far they can hit the ball, or occasionally rolling down the big hill, which seemed to be the case for some players during halftime. Several children decided to start along the first base line, taking on the ball-rolling role usually played by adult volunteers. Fiona, 8, River, 4, Thea, 7, Amber, 7, Violet, 8, and Phelix, 7, all helped roll balls out for those in the infield to catch.
A few significant new things happened this third night of T-ball. Poppy, 5, was the first child this season to take it upon herself to be the official T-setter. She regularly fielded balls and brought them to the tee, a most helpful job since there are typical delays between batters as we wait for a ball to find its way to the tee. By the end of the game, Georgia, 3, found joy in throwing balls from the infield to the tee, also helpful since many of the balls seem to temporarily disappear as the night proceeds and the coach is increasingly having to ask around for a ball for the waiting batter. One of our young ones, Theo, who answered every adult that asked his name with “I don’t know,” brought a transformer toy, asking Coach Yunus to hold it while he hit and give it back after so he could carry the toy around the bases.
Tatum, 4, was a prime example of T-ball magic. She approached the tee with a blank face. Sometimes it’s unclear if the blank faces we see are shyness, seriousness, determination or something else entirely. She broke into a huge smile when the bat connected with the ball. Such a simple thing, yet the joy it produces in these children is profound. And speaking of things that promote joy, our parking lot was graced by the presence of the bubble machine motorcycle. Many T-ballers enjoyed chasing and popping bubbles as they floated throughout the park.
Nio, who turned 4 the day after the game, swung so hard on his first attempt that the momentum took him in a full circle. He reset after his first strike to hit on his second try. He could have had 999 more strikes, but he didn’t need them this evening. Wesley hit the ball so hard he fell over when running to first. Or maybe that fall was owing to the muddy infield. Addie, 3 hit the ball so hard that she lost control of the caterpillar bat, both bat and ball going simultaneously airborne.
Mac, 3 — who is not Matt, and thanks Mom for the clarification — ran to the base with bat in hand, then kindly walked it back before returning to first. Joaquin, 4, was back from past years for his first game this season, and was notably stronger with his swings. Winnie, 4, requested to be introduced as Winnie Elizabeth when she came to bat. Charlotte, aka Char Char, 4, was another young one who proved small can be mighty at the bat. Farin made her T-ball debut, delighting her family with the energy she brought to the field. It cannot be stated often enough how nice it is to feel the loving support of friends, family, fans and fellow villagers. Clara, 9, seemed to have a personal cheering section when she came to bat. Luna, 2, upon receiving loud cheers from the crowd after her at bat, turned around to smile at everyone before she proceeded to first base.
I’m glad when players can help resolve misunderstandings: I had seen Kristoff filling out a registration form before the game. When he came to bat, I asked if this was his first time. He responded with an answer that made me pause. “Wait a minute,” I asked, “You’ve been coming to T-ball for forty-three years?” “No, I’ve been coming for four or three years.” “Oh. That definitely makes more sense.”
Yellow Springs Perry League T-ball is an all-volunteer program that is noncompetitive, free and open to children aged 2–9, regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, spiritual inclination or practice, ability or disability. You are welcome to join us Friday evenings in June and July starting at 6 p.m. in Gaunt Park.
On June 30, the evening will include a community celebration and reunion for past and present T-ball participants and fans.