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Old and new champions share float

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The Lions Hondo Little League float from the 1956 Eastern New Mexico State Fair parade. (Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)
The 2019 Roswell Intermediate 50/70 Division Southwest champion All-Stars ride in the Eastern New Mexico State Fair Parade on Monday. Sitting with the All-Stars are Harold Hobson and Tom Jordan Jr., members of the 1956 Lions Hondo team that won the Little League World Series. (David Rocha Photo)

It has been 63 years since the gang was all here — here means riding on a float down Main Street as everyone in Chaves County came out and cheered them and hollered as they were conquering heroes.

The boys on the float in 1956 were: Bill Turley, Ferrell Dunham, Blain Stribling, Tommy Jordan Jr., David Smith, Guy Bevill, Dick Story, Albert Palamino, Mike Sundry, Teddy Garrett, Jimmy Valdez, David Sherrod, Randy Willis and Harold Hobson. Managed by Dick St. John and assistant coach Pete Ellis, and to put some respect on it: The 1956 Little League World Series Champions.

On Monday, the opening day of the Eastern New Mexico State Fair (ENMSF), the fair’s theme, ‘Our Roots Run Deep and True,’ was never more evident as when the oldest champions Roswell has ever had — the 1956 Little League World Series champions — shared a parade float with the youngest champions, the 2019 Intermediate (50/70) Division Southwest Champions, who were second in the nation, runners-up in the Intermediate World Series.

In something out of a movie, the night before the opening of the fair five of the members met at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, shook hands and hugged each other. For some, it had been years — since 1983, when the team was together.

On that occasion, it was to name the park after Randy Willis, who died of cancer. Much has changed since the last time five of the players had seen each other.

One player was like Lazarus, he was resurrected from the dead. Harold Hobson saw one of the players’ brothers and told him he was sorry his brother had died in the Vietnam War. The guy looked at Hobson and told him, my brother didn’t die in the war, he’s living in Palestine, Texas. The guy was David Sherrod.

Time can do many things, it can turn a kid into a man. All of these men had grown old by time, circumstances, loss and life. Some were fat, others didn’t have teeth and all were gray, but through their eyes, they were all 12 years old again.

Not one of the players bragged or thought they were better than the others. No, each man acknowledges that the two best players on the team were Tom Jordan Jr. and Ferrell Dunham. All of the players gave appreciation where it was due.

Many recalled how Sherrod hadn’t had a hit in three at-bats, with the season on the line in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sherrod had tears in his eyes and was crying to manager St. John and told him to pinch-hit for him.

St. John didn’t panic, he told Sherrod to get his bat and get to the plate, that everyone gets a hit today. Sherrod said he was up at the plate with tears in his eyes and with two strikes on him, he swung his bat and stood in the batter’s box startled — until he heard his teammates telling him to run. Sherrod had knocked in the winning run and Jordan mowed them down in the seventh inning.

They shared that Hobson had saved the all-star season twice. No, no one was mad at who got the credit. On this night it was all about being glad to be together again.

The boys relived how they played the all-star games in their own uniforms, from their teams during the regular season, until they made it to the World Series. Each of the men talked about the loot they were given, reversible jackets that they used and wore often.

Tom Jordan talked about how he was mad about throwing Dunham a curveball that he hit out of the park when they played against each other in the regular season, before the all-stars. Jordan was so mad at him that he wouldn’t speak to him after the game when they shared cokes.

Every man looked forward to meeting the 2019 Southwest Intermediate Champions. See, game recognizes game, and champions know champions. There was an appreciation from, one champ to another on what it takes to be a champion.

For Ross Stokes, it seems like wherever he goes, people want to reach out and touch him and talk to him about winning and being on TV. The other day he was getting a haircut and people were coming up to him in the chair, asking him to sign the poster while he’s in the barber’s chair.

According to his mother, Julie Stokes, Ross has come out of his shell and become more confident and more of a leader in the things he’s done since being on the team.

“He’s become his own man,” Julie Stokes said. “He tells his brother, Rhett, he’d better watch out, or he’ll take his spot at shortstop.”

For the players that came back from playing in California, on a Tuesday, they slept all day because of exhaustion, and Wednesday they were back in school and going to football practice in the best shape of their lives. Many of the players were ready to go into football season in tip-top shape.

Another player from the Southwest all-stars, Reeco Lujan, said that for him to be able to make the all-star team and be a contributing player meant a lot for him and his confidence. Lujan had not made the all-star team the year before.

He loved being on the float and talking to the third baseman of the 1956 team, comparing notes. Reeco felt like he was an OK player before making the team.

“I know that I’m different after this experience,” Reeco Lujan said. “I know I can compete against the best in the world now. This has boosted my confidence as an athlete and if I can make it to the World Series, I can do anything.”

One of Reeco’s favorite memories was tagging a runner out and hearing the umpire saying, the runner’s out! Now, because of this experience, Reeco is thinking of playing not just football but baseball all year-round and working hard enough to get a baseball scholarship.

“He was happy about being on the float,” Greg Campos said of his son Matthew’s parade experience. “He was excited to meet the 1956 Lions Hondo Champions and take a picture with them.”

For Michael Mathison, he felt it was awesome to see everyone welcome the team back home when they came back from California.

“This made me want to try really hard to succeed,” Mathison said. “I want to succeed on the field and off the field. It was an awesome experience to meet the players from the 1956 team and share a part of what they did.”

Tom Jordan loved being on the float and sharing it with such an outstanding team.

For Southwest manager Kyle Stokes, he felt it was an honor to have the 1956 team participate in the parade and for some of the men to come back to visit. Stokes continues to encourage his players to give back to Roswell.

“I told our players,” Stokes said, “the achievement that they have accomplished is and always will be monumental. The dreams, the success, and the memories will last a lifetime much like that of the 1956 gentlemen.”

The Southwestern players were so enthralled by the 1956 team and how down to earth they were. The 1956 team talked about uniforms, tournament schedules and transportation. Both teams stated they could not have achieved what they did without the generous financial support of the Roswell community.

“You have an obligation now for the rest of your life,” Kyle Stokes said to his players. “If they call you up later in life and ask you to give of your time for Lions Hondo or for Roswell, you do it.”

Both the 1956 and 2019 teams now know what it is like to live in the hearts of Roswell forever — until the next parade.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.