CoulOak Little League celebrates 50 years

by Alan Hodge

Teams from CoulOak Little League participate in this season’s opening ceremonies and 50th anniversary celebration. (Courtesy CoulOak Little League)

When young baseball players with the CoulOak Little League take to the field this year, they will be celebrating 50 years of athletic excellence as they continue the tradition of bringing players and fans throughout Mountain Island together.

The CoulOak Little League began its official affiliation with the Little League International Organization in 1962, but kids began playing organized baseball in the Coulwood and Oakdale areas long before then. Jack Keistler, 65, played on one of those early teams.

“We first played in 1958 in Oakdale,” Keistler said. “The field was behind Oakdale School and was basically a grass pasture.”

Those early baseball fields, Keistler said, posed some challenges to playing the game.

“The ground was uneven and balls took some bad hops,” he said. “Those were some simple beginnings.”

Today, the 36 teams that make up the CoulOak Little League holds games on manicured public parks in the neighborhoods of Coulwood, Oakdale and Shuffletown. The teams have taken on names like the Braves, Yankees and Cardinals to emulate their major league idols.

CoulOak’s teams are part of Little League District 3 that includes teams from the Steele Creek, Mint Hill, Myers Park and Dilworth communities. About 375 players ranging from 4- to 12-years-old participate, and some of the sport’s youngest enthusiasts may even participate on t-ball teams.

Many talented players have taken the field throughout the years, including a 2009 CoulOak Little League team that won the N.C. Little League championship.

Current CoulOak Little League president Jeff Huggins, of Mount Holly, said he has fond memories of coaching the 2009 team.

“We were the first Little League state champs team from Charlotte in 35 years,” Huggins said.

Throughout the years, CoulOak Little League has even produced some players that have gone on to the Major Leagues, including third baseman Chad Tracy of the Washington Nationals. The 1998 West Mecklenburg High School graduate spent his college baseball career at East Carolina University and in 2001 was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball Draft.

But athletic accolades aside, the CoulOak Little League has been a strong force when it comes to giving Mountain Island area families a sense of community, said Kiestler, who is still active in the league’s activities and uses his farm tractor to help other volunteers prepare the field for play.

“Everybody pitches in,” he said.

Huggins said the league gives players, fans and volunteers, young and old, the opportunity to work together toward a common goal.

“People take pride in this area,” Huggins said. “The sense of community is the key to our success. Our ballparks have become neighborhood gathering places.”

With such a storied past and vibrant present, Huggins said, the future looks good for CoulOak Little League.

“It has been here long before I came,” Huggins said, “and it will be here long after I am gone.”

For more information about the CoulOak Little League, go online to www.couloak.org or www.facebook.com/couloak.

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