FREEBURN, Ky – On a brisk Saturday morning, a crowd gathered at the Freeburn Little League Baseball Field to honor an old friend and dedicate the field in his honor.
Larry Sturgeon was born with cerebral palsy but despite his handicap, he spent many years giving back to his community as an umpire and coach at the local baseball field. After months of tiresome work by the event’s organizer, Kim Dotson, she succeeded in having the field renamed the Larry Sturgeon Memorial Field.
Sturgeon was a close personal friend to Dotson, who has been a part of Little League sports around the area for as long as anyone can remember. Dotson said, “A lot of the older generations remember Larry, but his story was being lost among the younger generation. We did this keep his story alive and meaningful because he was such a great man an contributed so much to the community.”
Sturgeon passed away back in 1999 after years of service to the community and sports programs around the area. His love for the game of baseball grew into a passion when he was a young boy. He could not participate in game play but loved to watch and learn from his brothers, Charlie and Allen, who would take Sturgeon to the field with them. Throughout his life, Sturgeon gained a mass amount of knowledge for the game and fell in love with “his team,” the Cincinnati Reds.
Sturgeon was able to meet one of his heroes, Pete Rose. Dotson said, “I will never forget the huge smile he had when he was able to meet Pete Rose and the way his eyes would light up when he was able to attend a Red’s game.”
Sturgeon began umpiring back in the mid-70’s. He started with men and women’s softball, as well as boys’ and girls’ high school baseball and softball, but finally found his home in little league baseball where he could cultivate young minds with more than the rules of the game but his love for the game. “Every time I step out onto this field I look down the third base line and I can still see that huge grin he kept on his face,” said Dotson.
Sturgeon also was a huge fan of the local high school team, the Phelps Hornets, whom he had seen numerous generations of players pass through. “He never missed a game,” one person yelled out loud as they reminisced at the ceremony.
“Larry was an inspiration to us all. He approached life with joy and he never complained despite his struggles. Larry was happy here, this was more than a baseball field to him, it was a field of dreams and memories,” Dotson said.
As Dotson read the speech she had prepared for the dedication, she paused and choked out her final line, “Rest in peace Larry, I hope I did you proud.”
Dotson has been a coach and league manager for many decades in the Phelps, Freeburn, and Majestic communities. “I approached Hilman Dotson (Magistrate) with the suggestion and almost immediately he got it passed through the fiscal court over at Pikeville. This was all about giving recognition to Larry and everyone was behind that. He couldn’t play the game that he loved but he gave as much as he possibly could to the game by coaching and umpiring,” said Dotson.
As the ceremony wrapped up, a new group of children with over-sized hats and baggy uniforms made a dust trail onto the field. A banner was hung up on the fence with a picture of Sturgeon and his name before the word “field.” With the picture on the banner, Sturgeon can continue to watch over future generations as they learn lessons of life through America’s great past time; baseball.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)