After 18 years, the baseball spirits of Hall and Young still live on
Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2019
AMERICUS – If you go to the Sumter County Parks and Recreation baseball complex just south of town on US Highway 19 South, you will see a monument located behind home plate on the field to the right of the concession stand. That monument was built to honor the memories of two kids who loved the game of baseball: Josh Hall and Leroy Young.
Both Hall and Young were killed in an automobile accident on April 26, 2001.
“The accident that took the lives of Josh and Leroy shook our entire town,” Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department (SCPRD) Director Tim Estes said. “We knew that something needed to be done to permanently remember these two young men. There was nothing they enjoyed more than being at the baseball field.” Estes went on to say that the governing authorities at that time agreed to rename the field in their honor. That baseball field was renamed and is still called the Josh Hall-Leroy Young Memorial Field. “I felt like it was a fitting tribute to these two boys and their families,” Estes said.
While the two boys didn’t play on the same team, they were great friends. Teresa McCook, Josh Hall’s Aunt, remembers the time when both Hall and Young played together, though they were not teammates. Both were 10 years old at the time. “Josh was on the 10u Rockies team at the time,” McCook said. “He had the sweetest personality. He was very loving and caring and a good-natured kid. We lived in Leslie at the time and he loved playing with the neighborhood kids and going to Leslie Baptist Church. He loved swimming at the pool in Leslie and just hanging out.” McCook went on to say that if Charlie, Leroy’s older brother, didn’t bring the boys home from school, his grandparents often did. “They hung out together during the afternoons waiting on their parents to get off work. Leroy’s grandparents often picked them up together and they played at their house in Plains,” McCook said.
David Hall, Josh’s father, could see his son developing a love for baseball at a very young age. “Josh loved baseball from the time he started T-ball at the age of 4. At first, I was apprehensive about coaching him,” Hall said. “I was frustrated with the coaching that he had at the early level.”
Hall and Estes played high school baseball together at Americus High. He said that Estes noticed his frustration and challenged Hall to do something about it. “I volunteered to coach when Josh entered the 7-8-year-old Pitching Machine level at the Americus-Sumter County Recreation Department,” Hall said. “It had been 10 or 12 years since I had played high school baseball, so I had to relearn a lot of things about the sport myself. I tried my best to emphasize the fundamentals, such as catching the ball with two hands, running out each and every hit as hard as you can, making contact each and every at bat and hustling on and off the field. I tried to keep it fun for the kids since it was just little league.”
Hall went on to say that since he had played catcher all of his life, he wanted to steer his son in that direction. “Defensively, he was pretty good at it, even if it was just little league,” Hall said. “Offensively, he loved to hit. After I put up a batting cage in my back yard and a 10 x 10 backstop, we worked on hitting quite a bit as well. He loved for me to do soft-toss drills with him. We watched several hitting videos as well to help him improve.” Hall went on to say that he purchased a one-inch wooden dowell and some practice plastic golf balls to help improve his son’s hand-eye coordination.
“I saw Chipper Jones on TV a few days ago talking about the fact that as he was growing up, he used a PVC pipe from his Mom’s fern farm to help improve his hand-eye coordination. I immediately thought about the times that Josh and I were in the yard with the one-inch wooden dowell and the plastic golf balls,” Hall said.
Hall went on to state that when Josh was about eight years old, he sent him to an Americus Travelers baseball camp. “He (Josh) spent a hot summer morning with former Southland Academy and University of Alabama pitcher Brent Carter. As a result, he came back with a new found love for wanting to be a pitcher,” Hall said. “After his one lesson from Brent Carter, Josh looked exactly like a right-handed version of Mr. Carter when he toed the rubber to pitch.”
According to Hall, Americus didn’t allow kids to pitch until they turned 11 years old, so he put a team together to compete in a fall league in Leesburg that allowed the kids to pitch. “During their second season, Josh pretty much served as our most effective pitcher,” Hall said. “What I mean by that is he could throw strikes, whereas the other kids had a hard time finding the plate when called upon to pitch. I could tell that the pitching bug had bit him and he was going to make himself a pitcher. He never got the opportunity to pitch at the 11-12 year-old level, but he was very much looking forward to it.”
While Josh Hall loved athletics, there was also an artistic side to him as well. David Hall recalls that when Josh was an elementary school student at Southland Academy (SA), he won an art contest for drawing a rose for the Miss SAR pageant about a month before the accident happened. “He never told me that he had won and I wouldn’t have known anything about it had we not stopped at Monroe’s one Saturday morning after ball practice,” Hall said. “Jake Griffith was with Josh and myself and when we were leaving, we were walking past the Rylander Theatre when Jake said ‘Hey Josh look. There’s your rose on display in the lobby!’ It was a very good pencil drawing of a rose. I tried for several months after the accident to run that picture down so I could have it, but no one could help me locate it.”
Hall went on to say that Josh’s art teacher was very surprised to find out how athletic he was, and that Josh had been working on a picture entitled “Once Upon a Starry Night” at school before the accident took place. “He was about 95 percent finished with it and his art teacher gave it to me,” Hall said. “She said that she had planned on sending a letter home to me about getting Josh into an art program or art camp during his summer vacation, but she had not gotten around to sending it to me yet.”
Hall believes that had his son’s life not been taken at such a young age, he would have gone on to pursue a career in Marine Biology. “He absolutely loved Steve Irwin and any other wildlife show that might be on,” Hall said. “Likewise, he loved the movies Jaws and Free Willy with a passion. He was always practicing his “scuba diving” in the pool when he had the chance.”
According to Hall, Leroy Young was playing on the 10u Padres team the same year that Josh Hall was on the 10u Rockies team. “They were coached by Randy Ray and Stan Trollinger. I’d say that in that 9-10 year old group that Leroy showed the most improvement coming from age nine to 10,” Hall said. “The Padres had lost one of their best players that year with Jake Fletcher moving to Virginia with his parents after their nine year-old season was over.” Hall went on to say that Leroy had been moved from shortstop to third base and turned out to be very impressive at that position. “Defensively, he was making great plays that caught my eye,” Hall said. “He caught everything his way and turned a few double plays as well.” According to Hall, Young was a very good hitter as well. Being that Hall had been coaching several of these kids since they were seven years old, he had already penciled in Young on his All-Star ballot for the All-Star team that was picked at the end of the season.
While Josh Hall was a catcher for most of his life, he was moved to second base as part of an experiment to see if he could play that position. That experiment would end up paying off. “We were able to pick up another young man named Logan Daniel in the draft at the beginning of the year. Daniel was also a catcher,” Hall said. “We had a good shortstop in Jake Griffith (Jimbo’s son) who had been playing shortstop for a couple of years with me. We had a good first baseman in Cody Bivins, but we needed a solid second baseman. We decided to give Josh a chance to play there. The experiment was paying off very well for us.”
Hall went on to say that Josh was playing very well at second base and that he believed that the team had the best infield of any of the teams in the 10u league that year.
Like most 10-year-old boys growing up, Josh Hall and Leroy Young were typical 10 year-olds. “They loved football, baseball, motorcycles, scooters, go-karts, hunting and fishing,” Hall said. “They were both exceptionally smart and well-behaved. They made good grades and did their school work without any of us adults having to do any prodding on them to get it done.” Hall went on to say that Charlie Young, Leroy’s older brother, would drop the boys off after school. The first thing they would do once they were dropped off was work on their homework before they even thought of playing outside. “They liked going down to visit Mr. and Mrs. C.L. Walters, Leroy’s grandparents, to do their homework, hang out and eat goodies that Mrs. Walters loved to fix them,” Hall said.
Josh Hall and Leroy Young appeared to have their whole lives ahead of them and the future was bright for both of them. However, that all changed on the afternoon of April 26, 2001.
“Josh and Leroy were both riding home from school in Plains to where myself and Leroy’s parents worked at Windham Castings with Charlie,” Hall said. “I’m not sure what might have happened. Charlie had amnesia and could not remember as well, but for whatever reason, he strayed over into the oncoming eastbound lane of Highway 280. Unfortunately, there was an unloaded Kenworth log truck traveling in that lane and it hit them head on.”
Hall went on to say that Charlie and the two boys were in a full-sized Chevrolet Z-71 pickup, but it was no match for the Kenworth. “Leroy was riding in the front passenger seat and even with an airbag, he was killed on impact,” Hall said. “Josh was riding in the back seat behind Leroy. A nurse who came upon the scene thought she noticed a faint pulse on Josh so he was transported to Sumter Regional Hospital.” Hall went on to say that after trying to revive Josh for about an hour, the doctors told him the devastating news that Josh was gone.
Ever since that fateful day, Tim Estes has had numerous opportunities to tell the stories of Hall and Young to several players and parents. “I believe it’s a constant reminder to adults that this is a game and to enjoy our kids,” Estes said. “Don’t take things too seriously because you never know when life can change.”
Today, the legacy of Josh Hall and Leroy Young continues on through Hall’s cousin, Ethan McCook. This year, McCook played baseball in the SCPRD for the 8u Astros.
For Teresa McCook, seeing her son Ethan playing baseball on the same ball fields that his late cousin played on brings back a lot of bittersweet memories for her. She remembers one particular day when Ethan stopped at the monument to acknowledge his late cousin. “For my son to stop at the monument like he was acknowledging Josh, even though Josh wasn’t there, it was a bittersweet moment,” McCook said. “Ethan never knew Josh, but he knows about him from us talking about him all the time.” The way that Ethan McCook chose to acknowledge and honor Josh Hall was to draw an outline with his finger on Hall’s monument. “You can see the outline of the shirt. He just traced his fingers around it almost like he was paying his respects,” McCook said. “I think he (Ethan) said that he was saying ‘hello’ to Josh. He thought at first it was the gravesite. He asked me what was in those bricks. I told him that it wasn’t the grave and that it’s just a memorial that someone had made in memory of Josh and Leroy.”
Even after all these years, the impact that Josh Hall and Leroy Young made on this community is still strongly felt and it always will be. Estes is extremely pleased with the fact that one of the SCPRD ball fields was named after them in their honor. “Being a part of naming this field in the memory of Josh Hall and Leroy Young is one of my fondest professional memories,” Estes said. “I believe we did things the right way and had their families involved in the process. Young people for many years to come will hear the story of Josh and Leroy and will stop and think about how blessed they are to be watching their kids play the game of baseball.” Estes went on to say that he is really happy to see Ethan McCook playing now. “I see the same type of joy in him as I saw in Josh,” Estes said. “The Hall family and the Young family will always be a special part of my life. They are quality people. I hope we have and will continue to honor the memory of their sons in a way that they can be proud of.”