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Ola baseball celebrates 60th anniversary

 

By Melissa Robinson
Contributing Editor 

  In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the Korean War ended, Disney premiered Peter Pan, Marilyn Monroe was sizzling the Silver Screen in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and gas cost a whopping 20 cents a gallon, and according to Dan Stowers, Ola baseball was in full swing at the new Franklin Rape Park Field.

A photo of the old Ola Grandstand shows the roots of a baseball tradition that is still alive and well today.              Special photo

  In Henry County, Ola baseball has deep roots dating back even before 1953, but it was that year that Ola baseball players first starting using a field that is now known as Franklin Rape Park Field and in honor of that time when baseball was the weekend draw for something to do in Henry County, the Ola Athletic Association is celebrating its past at its annual parade on Saturday, March 23, marking the 60th anniversary of the dedication of the field.

  Stowers, who is the Ola Athletic Association volunteer president, said Franklin Rape Park is an important part of Ola’s baseball history and after some research and connecting with former players and longtime residents he was able to document how the baseball field came into existence.

  According to Stowers, Franklin Rape donated the land to build a field behind what is now Jenkins Heating and Air off of Highway 81. He said according to James Rutledge, who was one of the young ball players in the 1950s, his father, Melton Rutledge, was instrumental in clearing the land for use as a baseball field. Melton used his tractor to clear the land, with the help of other adults and players. He said his father made a scrapping blade and the boys would go behind the tractor clearing rocks off the field. He said that Melton Rutledge started Little League baseball in Ola and then turned it over to Buster Jeffares.

  Over the past several years, the Ola Athletic Association has seen a dramatic increase in the number of players coming to play baseball. The number of kids playing has increased greatly, growing from 225 in 2008 to more than 400 this year, and because of the growth, the younger players will begin using Franklin Rape Filed again, just as they did in the 1950s.

  Stowers said with the 60th anniversary coming up, volunteers have donated hundreds of hours to get the field into top shape. He said the Ola Baseball Association raised funds to purchase and install new wind screens and caps for the outfield fence as well as purchase brand new bases, home plate and a pitcher’s mound.

  Erica Cody, a parent and volunteer whose three sons play baseball in the Ola Recreation League, said that parents, coaches and volunteers came together to make the re-dedication of Franklin Rape Field a reality. She said her oldest son, who is ten years old, spent several hours helping to lay sod that was donated and said she knows he appreciates the value of the fields and how the community has come together on this project.

“We laid sod, fertilized the grass and killed hundreds of ant hills,” she said. “We were also able to budget to get a new scoreboard and a lot of people put in a lot of work hours to ready this field.”

   “Past players who played in the 1950s are expected to lead the annual Opening Day Parade and throw out the first pitch at noon when our eight and under teams open the season,” said Stowers.

  According to Cody, the parade will begin at Sharon Baptist Church then proceed on to North Ola Park. The parade will feature a fire truck leading various floats, and teams will set up fundraising booths for games and there will be vendors such as tattoos, crazy hair and face painting.

  Participants will begin lining up at 8 a.m. and the parade will begin at 9 a.m. After arriving at North Ola Park, the younger players will proceed across the street to Franklin Rape Field for the re-dedication, where former players will throw out the first pitch. The public is invited to attend. Sharon Baptist church is located at 536 North Ola Road in McDonough.

 

 

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