Baseball pioneers: The ‘46 Ephrata Jr. legion team had an amazing first year

By on August 17, 2016
 In 1946, the first Jr. legion team in Ephrata was formed. The team, which was coached by Clarence Gock¬ley, included (front row, left to right): John Krouse, Glenn Zug, Don Howett, Spec Sweigart, John Orwig and Jack Saylor. (Middle, l-r): Henner Weaver, Jim Brill, Bouder (first name missing), Ted Badorf, Kenny Von Neida and Jack Wingenroth. (Back, l-r): Jim Loose, Butch Brubaker, Ron Levitan, Bob Hacker, Leroy Callihan and Galie Weidman.

In 1946, the first Jr. legion team in Ephrata was formed. The team, which was coached by Clarence Gockley, included (front row, left to right): John Krouse, Glenn Zug, Don Howett, Spec Sweigart, John Orwig and Jack Saylor. (Middle, l-r): Henner Weaver, Jim Brill, Bouder (first name missing), Ted Badorf, Kenny Von Neida and Jack Wingenroth. (Back, l-r): Jim Loose, Butch Brubaker, Ron Levitan, Bob Hacker, Leroy Callihan and Galie Weidman.

Ephrata High School and the summer American Legion program certainly has a great baseball history.
And it all started in the late 1940s when a group of baseball pioneers got the program off and running.
This summer marked the 70th anniversary of the first Jr. Legion baseball team in Ephrata.
That 1946 team, although new to the league, certainly strung wins together like a squad that had been around for quite some time. In that summer, Ephrata posted a 13-1 league record to win the County division of the legion league. They then advanced to face the champions from the city with the overall league title on the line. And though they did not come out on top, they set a standard of excellence that still is followed to this very day.
Recently, a few players from that team got together to reminisce about that summer of ‘46.
“We had a pretty good team,” remembered Galie Weidman, who would go on to become head football coach at Ephrata, and was the catcher of the ‘46 team. “Clarence Gockley was a member of the legion and when he got out of the service he was the guy that was designated to coach the team. He was real into it.”
Under Gockley’s guidance, the boys from Ephrata had the perfect combination of pitching and defense to go with some solid sticks at the plate.
Jim Loose, who along with ace Ron Levitan, were the two primary pitchers on the team. According to Loose, Levitan, with a 12-to-6 curveball in his arsenal, pitched three no-hitters that season.
“There were three other teams with us in the county division…E-town, Mt. Joy and Manheim, and Ron threw no-hitters against all of them,” Loose said.
“He had that curveball. They used to jump away from the plate and it would come back across,” Weidman added.
While Levitan was the ace and a pitcher who would go on to sign a contract with the Cleveland Indians organization, Loose was a pitch-to-contact pitcher who had the benefit of a strong defense behind him.
“I don’t have any records but when Ron Levitan pitched the team made more errors than when I pitched,” Loose said. “They didn’t expect them to hit the ball. If I pitched, they knew the batters would hit the ball so they were always ready.”
According to Jack Wingenroth, who was one of the younger players on the team at 13, it was a well-rounded team.
“The whole team was good,” he said. “Being so young, I didn’t play a lot that year but the infield was good. I’d say the outfield may have been the weaker of the two. But it as a good defensive team.”
Weidman added, “That’s probably true. I think some of the younger guys were out in the outfield.”
The team played it’s home games at the Murrell Field, which was located behind the former Murrell Inn, located just east of town.
“The Murrell Inn was owned by a guy by the name of Saylor, and his son (Jack) was on the team,” Loose said. “The whole field back then was bordered by trees.”
“If you hit one off the roof of the Murrell Inn you knew you really got one,” Wingenroth added.
After winning the regular season County Division title, they advanced to face the (Lancaster) City team in the league championship game at Stumpf’s Field in Lancaster.
“The only problem was the city put out an all-star team,” Loose said.
Ephrata dropped that game by a 2-0 score, but Gockley protested the game, although none could remember exactly why. They eventually did win the protest and got another crack at the City team again, this time at F&M College.
Unfortunately, they dropped that one as well.
“We didn’t do so well in that second game,” Weidman said. “We should have won the first game. The game they protested because I think there was a bad call or something…I don’t know. But I do remember we weren’t suppose to win because they had an all-star team.”
In addition to Loose, Weidman and Wingenroth, the rest of the members of that ‘46 team included: John Krouse, Glenn Zug, Don Howett, Spec Sweigart, John Orwig, Saylor, Henner Weaver, Jim Brill, Ted Badorf, Kenny Von Neida, Butch Brubaker, Levitan, Bob Hacker, Leroy Callihan and (first name unavailable) Bouder.
While they didn’t win the overall title, the members of that team were very important from a historical standpoint the following season as they convinced the school to establish a high school team at Ephrata.
“Because we had a good team with the junior legion, Johnny Krouse and I were on the student council,” Loose remembered. “We approached Mr. Hammond, who was an assistant principal and was supervisor to the student council activities. We told him we have the nucleus of a good baseball team. Why don’t we have baseball here at Ephrata? He said he didn’t think kids were interested. Well, I drew up a petition, John approved it, and we went around and got about 85 to 90 percent of the students to sign the petition that they wanted baseball. The next student council meeting Mr. Hammond came in and said he took it to the school board and showed them there was a lot of interest and they are going to have baseball.”
Those first few years were tough though. The approval of baseball came with some conditions.
First, since there was no school field at the time, the players had to find a field. Second, the school wouldn’t pay someone to coach so the players had to seek one out.
The school did agree to purchase catcher’s equipment and set money aside to pay umpires. They also provided transportation to the away games.
“Everything else was on us,” Loose said.
The players first secured a field, going back to Usner’s in Schoeneck for that first year.
“We went to Usner and he said, ‘if you guys get the field in shape, you can use it,’” Loose said. “Here is why he said that. At the end of the baseball season, he put an electric fence all around the field and put his cows in there.”
As for a coach, they approached George Kiick, a former professional football player from Ephrata who returned to coach football at that time at the school.
“He said, ‘look, I don’t know anything about baseball but if you need a figure head put my name in.’ We put his name in but Krouse and I made the lineups and did almost everything.”
And baseball at Ephrata High School was off and running, thanks to bunch of determined teens who got it all started with that teriffic run in the summer of 1946.

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