The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.
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Something good came out of Tampa riots
Posted Jul 27, 2012 by Tom McEwen
Updated Jul 28, 2012 at 12:20 AM
August 25, 1980
TAMPA Back in the mid-Sixties Billy Reed and Ben Rouse talked frequently about organizing a Little League for black youngsters in the Belmont Heights area in Tampa’s mid-city.
Billy Reed was the baseball coach at Middleton. Before integration, Middleton and Blake were the all-black high schools in Tampa.
Ben Rouse, a postman then and a postman now, helped Billy Reed out with the Middleton high baseball team. It wasn’t really much.
“Until the civil rights act of 1964, well, we couldn’t get a Little League charter,” recalls Rouse, whose full time career job always remained with the U.S. Postal
“Well, without Little League, out high school team was suffering because we lacked feeders. So, Billy and me talked and talked about starting one in Belmont Heights but we didn’t do anything about it until 1968.”
“The thing that got us going was the riots of the summer of 1967. We knew then we had another more important reason. We knew we had to do something to keep these kids busy.”
The riots of 1967 centered in the 22nd and Lake section and along old Central Avenue where 1-4 and 1-75 converge. That impoverished strip, really the focal point of the riots, is no more. Urban renewal made it a park. The area was a sore, festering discontent.
“The street riots got us going,” said Rouse. “We formed the Belmont Little League for 1968. We got more community support than we expected and we got more kids out than we expected. We have come a long way.”
Ben Rouse understated this, in a big way he understated this development.
Rouse became president of the Belmont Little League, again. He has been president 10 of the 13 years of its life.
Last Sunday, Ben Rouse headed up the third Belmont Little League All-Star team and delegation in seven years to make it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.-the third!
That is a remarkable achievement, however the youngsters fare in this tournament that involves the four USA regional winners. The best of the USA’s Final Four and the best of the rest of the world’s Final Four and the best of the rest of the world’s Final Four meet this Saturday in the nationally-televised finals.
This Tampa Belmont team, whose roster includes a prodigious young talent who has just turned 11, made it to Williamsport with an 11-0 tournament record, the last to win in the Southern Regionals in St. Petersburg when some 3,500 of the Belmont partisans hailed the championship by singing “Amen, Amen.”
“It was just spontaneous,” said Rouse. “There are no black schools now. This is a matter of pride for us, what we have done. We have some white families who live in our district, but their kids chose to play somewhere else. That’s fine. We have some black youngsters in our area who chose to play somewhere else. That’s fine. We do with what we have and with our own strong methods.”
The Belmont Little League hierarchy always ran a tight ship.
It has great pride instilled by the fact it is an all-black organization and by’ its achievements - the three trips to Williamsport. That is one more than another marvelous Little League operation here has managed - West Tampa. The West Tampa All-Stars made it to Williamsport in 1967 and finished fifth, made it again in 1969 and finished third. Belmont finished third in 1973 and second in 1975. Belmont is given a good chance at winning it all this time despite the long shadow always cast by the Taiwanese entry.
“We operate on a budget of about $5,000 or $6,000,” said Rouse. “We save where some leagues don’t. The city gave us the field and utilities, but I understand we will have to pay for at least some of those next year. That’s okay.”
But, we have volunteer umpires. Nobody is paid.
“Now, because that is so,” emphasized President Rouse, “there is no disputing an official’s call. It is simply not tolerated, by a player or a coach or a manager. If there is an argument, the player, coach of manager is automatically suspended for the next game and he must come before a board and explain why he did what he did.
“People who do not see our kids play until tournament time may wonder why they do not protest. That is why. It is our rule. If you are angry and protesting, you lose sight of the game you are playing.”
Rouse said Belmont league officials look down their noses at abusive parents. “Oh, parents are parents, black or white,” said Rouse. “But, when kids sign up the parents are told to get involved or be quiet. We don’t have much trouble.” What they do have is a good organization and fine baseball.
This team going to Williamsport this year includes Gary Sheffield, a gifted youngster who is barely 11 and who can play any position, including pitcher and catcher. He hit three home runs in a regional game at St. Petersburg the other night. And, no, he’s not one of those kids who is bigger than all the rest. He’s actually small.
“He’s what you call a phenom,” said Rouse. “He’s been playing three years. He could have played in our majors at nine but we’ve got a rule against it.” Yes, this is the Gary Sheffield who made it big time in the big leagues. And, on this team this year is Pitcher Kirk Walker also has exceptional talent. In pitching the championship win (2-0) at St. Petersburg, he threw only four balls until the sixth inning.
“Yes,” said Rouse, “he gets it over the plate and with a little mustard, too.” Walker can catch, too, as can Sheffield.
Andre Mack is a hard-throwing right-hander. Tyrone Griffin is rare at short and Greg Hornsby wields a big stick.
Others on this fine team include Gerald Newberry, Dallas Brown, Terry Ray, Maurice Crum, Clayton Wilson, Michael Dexter, Derrick Pedro, Derrick Bell and Daryl Myers. Yes, that Derrick Bell.
Monte Edmunds, who works for the city sanitary department, is the Belmont coach, while construction worker Vernard Felder is the manager. These two are veterans of Williamsport play and that should help.
“I don’t know how we’ll do,” said Rouse. “But I know it is a great experience for these youngsters. They leave here knowing they’ve made it to the top in this game of Little League baseball and that should help them believe they can make it to the top in other endeavors. It is the kid more than anything else with us. After all, they are our captives. We must teach them right.”
When Belmont’s stars assembled at Tampa International Airport for the plane ride north, each had on a coat and tie and wore a short haircut.
“Discipline, more than anything else,” said Rouse, “has gotten us where we are. Our people must be neat always. No long hair, no braids. An Afro is fine, but it must not be outlandish. No profanity, ever. Respect for authority, always. These are our ways and they seem to have worked.
“I feel we have accomplished a lot since 1968,” from the riots that led to these giant steps to a Little League record that may be unmatched in the country.
The team did just fine, though not as fine as the world champions of a year ago when also on the championship team was Gary Sheffield’s uncle-Dwight Gooden. Sound familiar?
“A half dozen of the Belmont Heights teams players made to the bigs, none more successfully than the youngest Cy Young winner ever, Dwight Gooden, and Sheffield, who many say has the fastest hands and bat while Gooden was an absolute super star. But. Belmont’s remarkable program fell on bad times for a while, then fought back, and led by alumni like Sheffield, Gooden and Bell, it has risen to prominence again and with new digs. Risen from the ashes, as the first fine Belmont teams rose from riots.