Hundreds joined in celebrating the league’s opening day and the honoring of Richard Wingard. For 38 years he served as a coach and a mentor for the city’s youth.
This year’s teams lined the basepaths of the field around 9 a.m. Each player wore a patch bearing the initials of Wingard, “R.A.W.,” on their jersey.
The honoree looked on from the diamond’s center with his wife Margie and other family members. Wingard, who is struggling with health issues, spoke briefly to express his gratitude.
“I thank all of you,” he said. “I love every one of you little leaguers... I just wanted the right direction for you. I thank you for everything.”
In 1975, Wingard coached the state champion little league team from the city. Many of the players from that team were on hand, and they each greeted their former coach and his family.
One of the players, Jeff Salter, presented him a poster of their team photograph from that year with their signatures on it.
“Coach, it is fitting that we are honoring you on this field today, because this is the place where our state championship journey started,” Salter said. “There is one trait all championship teams have, and that is a great leader. Without you, we don’t have that championship.”
Sylacauga resident Cass Curtis read a commendation on behalf of Gov. Robert Bentley. Curtis also said he could personally attest to Wingard’s time as “an inspiration and a role model” to him and others.
The commendation stated “Richard Wingard is a positive inspiration and is considered a hometown hero in Sylacauga. Therefore I, Robert J. Bentley, governor of Alabama, do hereby commend Richard A. Wingard and proclaim the opening ceremony of Sylacauga Little League baseball on March 26, 2011 ‘The Richard A. Wingard Opening Ceremony’ and declare it Richard Wingard Day in the state of Alabama.”
Mayor Sam Wright also issued a proclamation recognizing the 38 years of dedication and support to the organization. He credited Wingard with a great work ethic and an ability to instill that work ethic into his players.
“I can remember very vividly my first day in Sylacauga in 1963,” Wright said. “I can remember what little league meant then and the tradition of it is so great, seeing all these kids out here. The reason the tradition is so great is because of people like Richard Wingard.”
Tommy Culver hosted the day’s ceremony and presented trophies to the members of the 1975 team. He thanked Wingard for “doing so much for this area.”
“For someone who would dedicate 38 years to these kids, that says a lot about his character and his kindness,” Culver said.
Wingard’s daughter, Tina Fleaman, spoke for her father as well. She said he wanted to say how much little league had meant to him and his family.
“He wanted you all to know that it has always been about the kids,” Fleaman said. “That’s the purpose behind little league, for the kids to have the opportunity to go, play and have fun. Winning is great, but it is all about them having fun.”
Contact Matt Quillen at firstname.lastname@example.org.