Rockport is the site of Jenkins Post 254 American Legion Post. The city boasts a population of some 2,500. The post membership is 477, which qualifies as a mid-sized Indiana post.
Jenkins Post also has 101 Auxiliary Post members and a Sons of the Legion affiliation. The total membership supports various charities and sends students to Boys State and Girls State summer programs. Whenever a local group needs financial or helping hands, Jenkins Post and its members are always there. In fact, Jenkins Post is the backbone of southern Spencer County.
But nowhere does Jenkins Post standout most as on the baseball field with the longest lasting top program in the state.
Post 254 provides the finances and the labor of members to produce one of, if not, the most successful American Legion baseball program in the state of Indiana.
If nothing else, the stability of the local program is the best in the state. Rockport’s program has been on the scene for 51 consecutive years.
During that time, only three men have coached the teams (Charlie Jones guided the team in 1941). The records produced along the way are amazing.
Bill Evans was the architect of the program after arriving in Rockport in 1955 as a teacher and coach at Rockport High School. He guided the team from its 1957 resurrection until giving up the reigns after the 1966 campaign. His high school record was 139-66 and American Legion record 250-155 Evans’teams won two Legion state championships, two state regionals, and four sectionals.
“During my years we had a strong program with a lot of great people involved,” Evans said. “We had the best umpires in Kay Wright, Ed Lautner, Hargis Gibbs and Elvis Hall.
“Hargis was a great umpire, but when Hall hit the scene it was something else. He was the best ever.”
Bill Gibbs headed the local program in 1960, while Evans was away earning his Master’s. Gibbs had served as Evans’ top assistant in 1959 and 1960. His 1960 team finished 24-10 and won the District title. The team dropped two games to Jeffersonville in a losing effort in regional play.
Jim Haaff, a member of Evans’ 1959 state championship team, assumed leadership and remains in the dugout today. Haaff’s record stands at 921-553 and counting. His teams have won five state crowns, 13 state regional titles, 30 state sectionals and three national Great Lakes Regional championships. His 1974, 1984 and 2007 teams played in the American Legion World Series. Jenkins Post 254 is the only team to make more than one trip to the World Series.
After four straight losing campaigns, Haaff’s teams posted 19 straight winning seasons from 1971 through 1989. Only eight of his teams have suffered losing season.
Rockport has field two teams with over 40 wins, the 1961 team that finished 42-14 and the 1962 team with a 42-15 mark. Post 254 teams have won 30 or more games 11 times.
BILL GIBBS IN CHARGE IN 1960
Bill Gibbs took over the Jenkins Post 254 program in 1960, when Bill Evans spent the summer at Indiana University earning his Master’s. Gibbs had served as Evans’ top assistant for the 1958 and 1959 teams. Rockport captured the state title in 1959.
Rockport finished with a 24-10 mark under Gibbs. Post 254 captured the District championship with a 50 mark, including 4-2 and 4-3 triumphs over arch-rival
Evansville Funkhouser. Rockport scored 47 runs in the tourney, downing Mt. Vernon 16-6 and topping Tell City 11-6 and 12-2.
Rockport dropped a pair of games in losing the regional. Post 254 defeated Shelburn 5-3 and lost to Jeffersonville 6-3 and 6-5.
Gibbs left the playing field to take over as team business manager during 1961 and 1962 seasons and continued to help the program in various capacities for the next 20 years.
William Joseph “Bill” Gibbs migrated to Rockport in 1921 at the age of 1½ years when his family moved from Attica. His work took him many places around the country but he always considered Rockport his home.
He served his country in World War II from 1942 to 1946 and in Korea from 1951 to 1953.
His employment as a telephone plant engineer with various contracting companies necessitated his being temporarily in other parts of the U.S. and the world. But his interests and loyalties remained firmly in Rockport, particularly in Jenkins Post, where he was a 35-year member.
The 2005 team registered 30 consecutive wins before losing one game in the State Tournament. The 2006 team started the season 1-4 and ran off before racking up 27 straight victories before dropping a pair of games to Terre Haute during the championship round of the State Tourney.
The first team ever was fielded in 1941 and was coached by Charlie Jones. That team won the District title with three victories. Post 254 topped Bedford 10-4 in the first Region 1 state regional before falling to state runners-up East Chicago 4-3. The team folded after the United States entered World War II.
In 1957, Evans joined forced with Richard “Pepper” Walker to get the Rockport program back in operation. Evans and L.G. Jolly had started the local youth baseball program in 1955. After only two years of play, Walker and Evans decided it was time to field a Legion team.
“It was Pepper’s idea to start a Legion program,” Evans said. “Pepper was on the first Legion team in 1941. After we put a team together, Walker handled the business affairs.”
Evans added, “Charlie Roberts was a coach the first year and “Buck”
The 1957 Legion Team – Rockport’s 1957 American Legion team was the first since the inaugural team in 1941. The program was scrapped after the beginning of World War II and was dormant 16 years. Team members are: Front Row (L-R): David Matthews, Gene Vincent, Mike Chinn, Richard Hedrick, Jimmy Boyd, Kenny Lindsey, Asst. Coach Charlie Roberts. Back Row (L-R): Manager Bill Evans, Paul Jolly, Wayne Boultinghouse, Damon Vincent, Larry Zimmermann, Jim Haaff, Charlie Cannon, Business Manager Richard Walker.
Erwin was a coach the second year. Then Bill Gibbs took over as my assistant and remained through 1961. Paul Dunker replaced him and stayed until I resigned.”
Rockport went 4-6 in 1957 with lefty Haaff posting a 2-3 record on the mound. “We got thumped a few times,” Evans said. “But boy we had a young team. Gene Vincent and Charlie Cannon were just out of the 8th grade. Damon Vincent, Mike Chinn and Haaff were just out of their freshman year.”
More opponents were added in 1958 and the team finished with a 7-10 with Haaff again 2-3 on the mound. “We did better in 1958,” Evans recalled. “Funkhouser beat us in the final game of the District Tourney. Umpire Hargis Gibbs called David Matthews out at the plate with the winning run. It so obvious David was safe. I threw a bat through the screen. Princeton manager Jim Pegram told me David was safe and said we got a bad call.
That was the start the rivalry with Funkhouser.”
Evans and the Rockport program burst on the state scene in 1959 with a first ever state championship for any local athletic team. Post 254 captured the state with a 29-14 record. The team won its first sectional, regional and state crown before finishing second in the Great Lakes Regional to World Series champ Detroit. But Detroit was denied the crown after it was detected as using and ineligible player. Since the season had ended before
the violation was discovered, the title was left vacant.
In that Great Lakes Regional, Rockport topped Columbus (Ohio) 11-9, Murphysboro (Illinois) 4-0 on Haaff’s shutout and Detroit 8-7. Rockport lost a pair to Detroit by scores of 2-1 and 8-2.
Rockport was to remain a state power from that year forward.
The teams have played 1,902 games in the last 51 years.
In that span, Jenkins Post has captured 35 sectionals, 15 state regionals, seven state titles and three Great Lakes Regionals.
Rockport has phenomenal records along the way. Rockport has won 150 games and lost only 43 in sectional play (including 1941), is 72-42 in state regional competition (including 1941), stands at 32-22 in state finals, is 24-1 in Great Lakes Regional action and 2-6 in World Series action.
The three trips to Legion World Series highlight the overall history of Post 254.
After winning the state crown in 1974, Rockport dropped the opening game of the Great Lakes Regional played at Stevens Point, Wis. But the local bounced back with four straight triumphs to advance to the World Series in Roseburg, Ore.
Eleven years later, Rockport was back in the World Series in New Orleans. But this time Post 254 did not win the state title. Rockport dropped two straight in the state finals at Richmond. But Rockport became the smallest city to ever host a National Regional and as a result was awarded a berth in the Great Lakes Regional. Rockport again advanced out of the loser’s bracket to defeat Mt. Prospect, Ill., twice on Sunday to earn the World Series’ trip.
Haaff’s 2007 team reached the World Series in Bartlesville, Okla. It was the third Series appearance for Post 254. Rockport dropped heart-breaker to eventual Series champ Columbia, Tenn., 6-4 in a first-round game and fell to Bellingham, Wash., 17-8.
“Our program is set up different from other programs,” Haaff said. “We get a lot of help from a lot of people. The Legion supports us financially and with physical help. A lot of other teams are amazed about the support we get from our many volunteers. People are aware of who we are.”
Mixing talents from a host of different schools each season requires a lot of savvy from Haaff and his staff. “There are a lot of kids who come here to play for us,” Haaff said. “We aren’t the easiest people to play for. But on the other-hand we try to be fair. We have two rules – show up and play hard and if you can do that we don’t need you. We don’t worry if a kid is going to miss a game or two. We try to be more worried about who is going to be
there than who is not. As long as we’ve got 10 kids and a couple of pitchers, we’re going to play.
“One of the real neat things about coaching Legion baseball is the people you get to know. How would I have ever known Katy Pappano and witness all of the things she has contributed to this program. How would I have ever met this lady? How would I have ever met her husband, her son?
“This has been true all through the years. Associating with the moms and dads of all these kids have proven how great people are. Just because we spend our high school days trying to beat each other doesn’t mean we can’t get together to try something in common.
“We’ve had a lot of response out of the county. Some nice things have been written about this kind of thing. Maybe we ought to have a few more projects in this country where we work together rather than try to work against each other.”
Highlights along the historical trail include:
- The 1941 team’s trip to Indianapolis for the Region 1 regional tourney. Because of a lack of money, the team was forced to sleep in on the bus and on the grounds of the city park the night before the tournament.
- The resurrection of the program in 1957.
- The first state championship in 1959 and the great outpouring of fans greeting the players on their return to Rockport.
- Jimmy Boyd’s 350-foot homer over the leftfield fence and across the street to give Rockport an 11-inning 6-5 victory over South Spencer in the 1961 state title game.
- The 1961 and 1962 teams posting back-to-back 40 season triumphs.
- Bill Evans retires after 1965 season and Jim Haaff named new head coach.
- Evans returns for 1970 season while Haaff attends summer school at Western Kentucky to earn his Master’s degree.
- Haaff back in charge in 1971.
- The no-hitter fired by Jimmy Harris in a 1-0 gem over Jasper in the 1969 sectional.
- The first trip to the World Series in 1974. Rockport beat Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and lost to Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and Lake Oswego, Ore.
- Rockport third baseman Greg Tooley winning the Big Stick Award in 1974 for the most total bases (25) in regional and World Series play despite only playing three games in the Series.
- Rockport pitcher Jim Schmidt posting an 8-1 record in 1974 and a 7-0 mark in the 1975 for an overall record of 15-1. Included was a 3-0, four-hit victory over Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the World Series.
- Catcher Kirk Hudson played in four State Finals from 1971 through 1974.
- Upset loss of state regional in 1975. With most of the 1974 team returning, the team fell 5-1 to Jasper and 9-8 in 11 innings to Princeton in the regional. Rockport had split with Jasper during the regular season, losing 11-10 in 10 innings and winning 5-2. Post 254 has whipped Princeton in three regular season meetings by scores of 17-6, 2-0 and 41.
- After entering the final day of the 1983 Great Lakes Regional as the only undefeated team, Rockport was beaten twice by Worthington, Ohio, 5-3 and 6-4.
- The 1984 team returns to the World Series after losing two straight in the State Finals. As the host team, Rockport was in the Great Lakes Regional field and battled from the loser’s bracket to top Mt. Prospect, Ill., twice on Sunday. Rockport beat Millington, Tenn., and lost to Brooklawn, N.J., and Las Vegas in the Series.
- Rockport becomes the smallest city to ever host a national regional. Overflow crowns jammed Joe Allen Hargis Athletic Field to watch Post 24 win the crown.
- Left-hander Brad Fella completed his three-year stint on the mound for Rockport with an overall record of 23-4. His great pitching in the national regional propelled Rockport into the World Series.
- With Norman Hall and Larry Schweizer at the microphone, WBNL carried most of Post 254’s games during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
- Ferman Yearby with his camera in hand at almost every tournament Rockport played in provided a living history of local Legion baseball. Thanks to him and his wife, Joyce, many of those photos appear in this book.
- The fantastic 2005 season when Rockport posted 30 consecutive wins before falling to Terre Haute in the State Finals. Post 254 bounced back to win the state. The team four straight wins in the Great Lakes Regional at Moline, Ill., before dropping a pair of contests to Woodbury, Minn. The team finished with the best season ever for a Rockport team at 36-3.
- Ian Reinhart’s masterful 1-0 win over Terre Haute to seal the 2005 state title.
- The 2005 season would produce the first time three pitchers to each win nine games in a season. Kerrick Cron, Jeremy Kuester and Shawn Larsen all won nine outings.
- The unexpected spectacular record of the 2006 squad. The team lost four pitchers who won a combined 31 of the 36 wins in the 2005. After losing four of the first five games of the season, Rockport racked up 27 straight victories. After beating Terre Haute in the opener of the state finals, Rockport advanced to the final round as the only undefeated team. But two losses to Terre Haute brought an end to the great run. Terre Haute would go on to finish as World Series runners-up after losing two games to Metairie, La.
- Jay Cutler, who played three years for Post 254, was the 2006 top draft pick of the Denver Broncos and became the team’s starting quarterback before the season ended. The Heritage Hills High School product played shortstop for Post 254 from 1998 through 2000. He caught a 12-yard TD pass from Cole Seifrig, another Rockport Legion player, to left Heritage Hills past Zionsville 27-24 in overtime for the Class 3A football title in 2000. He was All-State in football and basketball and honorable mention All-State in baseball.
- Blake Monar won the Most Valuable Player Jay Cutler award in the 2007 Great Lakes Regional. He won two games and struck out 24 batters. He allowed only three earned runs in 18 innings on the mound.
- 410 young men have played baseball for Post 254.
- Mike Chinn (1957-1962), Randy Miller (1959-1964) and Gene Vincent (1957-1962) played six years for Post 254.
- Eric Ayer (1961-1965), Jimmy Boyd (1957-1961), Charlie Cannon (1957-1961) and Mark Lutz (1958-1962) played five years for Post 254.
- Matt Boyd (2004-07), Bill Buxton (1970-73), Steve Dunker (1962-65), David Erwin (1964-67), Larry Garrett (1961-64), Bill Hesson (1959-62), Kirk Hudson (1971-74), Todd Martin (2004-07), Jacob McGrew (200407), Jerald Nickens (1959-62), Tom Purcell (1976-1979), Steve Smith (2000-03), Terry Tullis (1964-67), Eddie Ward (1979-82) and Eddie Wroe (1962-65) were four year players for Post 254.
1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
STATE REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
1959, 1961, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1984, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006
1959, 1961, 1974, 1979, 1983, 2005
GREAT LAKES REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
WORLD SERIES APPEARANCES