An Eminence-based alumni group hopes to honor a man who devoted most of his adult life to youth baseball.
Members of the Merriweather-King Street School Fund are hoping to convince Eminence Independent Schools officials to name a high school ballfield after long-time youth league coach Leeroy Winburn.
Winburn, who also served on Eminence City Council for 20 years, died in March 2007 at age 63, and some feel recognition for his contributions to the community is overdue.
“He was dedicated and committed, and we decided he needed attention,” said Ron Wright, one of the founders of the school fund, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the city’s two all-black elementary schools. “We want to pay homage and glorify what he did.”
Joyce Winburn, also a member of the school fund board, was married to Leeroy for 14 years. She said her former husband was a “baseball nut. He didn’t talk about basketball. He didn’t talk about football.”
His life was all about baseball, epecially when their son, Lamarr, became old enough to play T-Ball in the early 1970s. That’s when Leeroy and Stan Olsen established the Henry County Little League Association, she said.
“They worked their butts off to get the Little League commission going,” she said.
They managed to procure a piece of land near the EHS baseball field to build a youth league field, she said.
Leeroy Winburn managed to have dirt for the field donated, and he borrowed a dump truck to haul it there himself, Joyce said. “That was in the dead of winter, (in a truck) with no heat and no windows. He got pneumonia, but he would not quit until he moved it all. That’s the way he was about his teams.”
Joyce Winburn says that field is now used for EHS softball.
Wright said the group will ask board members Pamela Morehead-Johnson and Danny Fisher to bring a resolution to the full board regarding the plan. Morehead-Johnson also is a member of the school fund board.
Sometimes to the peril of his own marriage, Leeroy Winburn also was devoted to his Little League and Babe Ruth players, and later his players on the EHS baseball team, which he also coached for several years.
Joyce said at their house, all storage space was filled with baseball equipment and it wasn’t unusual to have a house full of kids.
“They would go to all-day tournaments, and the kids would come home with him. ... Our house became the Baseball Inn,” because there would be boys sleeping on the couch and on the floors, she said. “I boiled more hot dogs. ... It was a hub, because it was his passion.”
Joyce said Leeroy often spent the money he earned as an account specialist at General Electric to buy gloves for players whose parents couldn’t afford them, without thinking of the consequences to the family’s pocketbook. “We were all right [financially], but. ...”
Perennially, his teams, always named The Astros, were the ones to beat.
“You can ask anyone. ... Everyone knew that when Leeroy’s team showed up to play, they were ready to play. ... Anyone was hard-pressed to beat them.”
Lamarr was always on his father’s teams, but never got any special treatment, Joyce said. “Leeroy expected 10 times more from his own son than any of the others.”
She said she believes Lamarr feels wounded by the fact that nothing has been done to honor his father.
And she admits that during his time with Little League and the 20 years he served on Eminence City Council, Leeroy may have rubbed some people the wrong way.
“We all have our flaws, and none of us are perfect. But, regardless, what he established and what he did -- the influence he had and the impact he made cannot be undone. You can’t unring that bell.”
Travis Hernandez, who teaches special education and is assistant baseball coach at EHS, said Winburn had a strong influence on him when he was on the baseball team.
“He was a really great coach. There was really a great respect between Coach and all the players,” Hernandez, now 30, recalls. “He let us enjoy ourselves, but when it was time to get serious, we did.”
Winburn established a strong sense of seniority among his players, Hernandez said. The freshmen were required to carry equipment bags and the sophomores raked the field. “The seniors were responsible for keeping everyone in line. It worked really well.”
Most of all, Winburn taught his boys character. “If we got in trouble off the field, we had to run bases on the field,” Hernandez said. “He was adamant that we represented our school, and took pride in our school and our uniform. ... I can’t say enough about him. He was very instrumental in developing my character as a young man.”
Hernandez said Winburn also hired his players to help work the farm owned by his parents, Stanton and Martha Winburn, particularly during tobacco-cutting time. His fondest memory is ofº the lunches Winburn’s mother would prepare for them.
“They were the hugest meals. We would be so full, we’d want to sleep. It was the main reason we went. But he paid us, as well. He was very fair.”
Should the Eminence Board of Education decide to name a field for Winburn, Hernandez said, “I’d support it 100 percent.”
So far, the idea has not been presented to either Superintendent Buddy Berry or EHS Principal Steve Frommeyer, but both said Tuesday they were receptive to it.
“We’d sure welcome the discussion,” Berry said.