BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Each spring, young baseball players gather around the nation and play baseball. Kokomo is no exception, and since 1951, future Major Leaguers have been playing at Miller-Highland Park along the banks of the Wildcat Creek. In 1953, the league was renamed UCT Little League after a donation by United Commercial Travelers of American.
Decades later, UCT Youth Baseball League is a power not only in Howard County, but around the state. The league owns 11 David A. Kasey Memorial Youth Baseball Tournament titles and are the defending 12-year-old all-star state champions.
On April 16, UCT hosted its 67th annual opening day ceremonies with a packed park of players, coaches, families and friends. In 2017, UCT hosts seven T-Ball squads, eight Rookie League teams, three Minor League teams and six Major League teams. Under the leadership of league president Andy Keating, more than 300 Kokomo youth will be playing America’s Pastime each evening through June.
After introducing every player, a prayer by Amy Roe and a perfectly executed rendition of the National Anthem by Sean VerLee, Noah Koontz, who was escorted to the pitching mound by his mother Kassie, delivered the opening day game ball to UCT alumnus and current professional baseball pitcher Nolan Sanburn, who tossed out the first pitch of the season. But before Sanburn could make the toss, Keating had a special announcement that thrilled the crowd.
“We have not had a mental attitude award at UCT,” said Keating. “But we now will have the UCT Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award.”
Koontz, Noah’s father and Kassie’s husband, was a Howard County Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed in the line-of-duty last year. Keating presented the inaugural award trophy to the Koontz family in a ceremony that took place on the UCT pitcher’s mound.
After Sanburn fired a strike to Patrick Hardimon of Coke, Keating grabbed the microphone one final time and yelled the most famous words in baseball: “Play ball!” And with that, the 2017 youth baseball season was underway.
NOTE: Southside also opened on April 15. Greentown, Northwestern, Taylor Southeast and Russiaville opens on April 22; Northside on April 29; and Eastside on May 6.