American Legion programs such as Baseball, Oratorical Contest and Boys State/Nation are pretty well known. But Legion posts also are changing the rules a little to better serve their customer base.
Take the example of American Legion Post 356 in Lynn Haven, Fla. The post sponsors a Boy Scout troop, has an American Legion Riders chapter, sends care packages to servicemembers stationed overseas and hosts a Halloween party for local children. But the post also sponsors a softball team — The American Legion/Easton — comprised of active-duty servicemembers. And the team is good. Really good.
In August at Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach, Fla. – competing against more than 100 teams from several different states – Post 356’s squad won the United States Specialty Sports Association 2012 Military World Softball Tournament in dominating fashion. The team batted .754 with 37 home runs and averaged 25.8 runs per game while sporting a perfect 5-0 record.
"It felt like we got a great big weight off our shoulders," said John Atkinson, a member of Post 356 and the team’s coach. "We knew our team had improved this year, and we really felt like if we didn’t win the tournament, this year was going to be a failure. We knew we had an opportunity to win this thing."
Atkinson, an Air Force veteran, said Post 356 has sponsored the team for four years. "I send them a newsletter about the team, and they print it in the post newsletter," Atkinson said. "The post is very involved with the team, and the support really means a lot to everyone on the team."
Members of the team – all members of Post 356 – are:
Air Force – Tommy Melton, Joshua Wiggs, Robert Goddard, Casey Chance, Inez Ornelas, Jim Bawcum, Jay Cortez, Mark Romero, Jeremy Moody, Ryan Reid, Mitch Commet and Zac Turissini;
Army – Michal Dochwat, Tre Campbell, Lee Diaz and Jerry Surber;
Army National Guard – Travis Wollison; and
Navy – Dustin Kentzell.
"They’re all about the Legion," Atkinson said. "They go out there knowing they’re representing the past, present and future veterans."