American Legion honors Lester White for his many years of baseball coaching
Howards Ridge native Lester White worked construction throughout most of his adult life, but his greatest legacy isn’t in the structures he’s helped build. It’s the young men whose lives he has touched – through baseball.
Recognizing his efforts, the American Legion Baseball Department of Arkansas last month named him to its Meritorious Award Hall of Fame. The honor, presented Jan. 19 in Little Rock, honors White’s “many years of coaching and service as State Chairman.”
The Hall of Fame recognition comes 10 years after the city of Mountain Home, Arkansas, where White coaches, proclaimed June 12, 2009, as “Lester White Day,” acknowledging White’s coaching of “the Mountain Home Lockeroom American Legion Baseball Triple A team since 1983” and his “fundraising efforts and establishing financial assistance to enable players to receive baseball scholarships.”
In 2013, Mountain Home named the baseball field where the American Legion teams play “Lester White Field.” The proclamation announcing the naming of the field said, “During the past 30 years, more than 150 young men coached by Lester White have gone on to play college baseball, and at least four have played professional baseball.”
Some of White’s former American Legion team members are currently playing college baseball at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, South Dakota University in Aberdeen, Arkansas Tech in Russellville and Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.
Some of those who went on to play Major League Baseball include Derin McMains, who played shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, Tom Czanstkowski, who pitched for the Houston Astros and Brandon Love, who pitched for the Cincinnati Red Sox.
White says he loves hearing from former players, who are now “college graduates, lawyers, teachers, principals, coaches ... you name it.”
Another accomplishment White, now 72, is proud of is his record of coaching 1,590 consecutive games without missing a single one. And then there are the 979 total wins his teams have won, including the Arkansas state championship in 1997.
White’s own baseball-playing days began during his childhood days in Howards Ridge, where he lived with his parents, the late Pete and Lorene White, and four sisters (now Bev Uchtman of Tecumseh, Linda Watson of Howards Ridge and Barbara White of Yellville, Arkansas; a fourth sister, Edna Uchtman, died in 2015).
He jokes that someone who had lunch with him once asked him why he eats so fast. “I said, ‘I grew up with four older sisters. If I didn’t eat fast, I didn’t eat!’” he said.
“Growing up, we had a team with a lot of the Howards Ridge boys,” White said, listing Johnny and Eddie Baxter, Bob Robbins, Jimmy Joe Blackburn and Junior and Harlin Trivitt as some of his teammates.
The team played at a local site they called “Brush Stadium,” White said, laughing. His dad made arrangements for the team to play other teams from Bakersfield, West Plains, and Salem and Flippin, Arkansas, among other places.
White played baseball for coach Bruce Brock at Gainesville High School, where he graduated in 1964. He was a walk-on at Arkansas Technical University in Russellville, but his baseball playing ended when he hurt his knee in a scrimmage. After a year at Arkansas Tech, White moved on to a career in construction, but for a couple of years, 1967-69, he played semi-pro baseball with the Springfield Giants, a team that played and practiced nights and weekends after its team members completed their regular jobs away from the baseball diamond.
In 1981, he married Roberta Willard in Mountain Home. They have one son, Barry White, who lives in Georgia with his wife, Tracy, and kids Lauren, Alix and Ashleigh.
In 1982, while the family lived back in Howards Ridge, White began coaching Babe Ruth Baseball, a league for 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds, in Mountain Home. His son Barry played on one of his teams. Later, White would also coach two of his nephews: Wes Uchtman in 1991 and 1992, and Lyle Uchtman in 1993, ’94 and ’95. White says both nephews were talented players who helped their teams win.
“In 1984, they gave me the job of coaching American Legion ball for 16- through 19-year-olds,” he said. It’s a job he’s continued for more than 30 years now. Most of the American Legion team members are juniors or seniors in high school, where they also play for their school teams during the school year. Some team members may have finished their freshman year of college.
Two 18-man Mountain Home teams operate in the American Legion’s Mountain Home system. White coaches the Lockeroom team (sponsored by the Lockeroom sporting good store). The other, younger, team is the Alley White Post 5 American Legion team.
Baseball players from all over the area converge on Mountain Home for the tryouts, which this year will begin at “high noon on May 18-19,” White said. Rosters are announced at the end of the weekend, and a week later, on May 25, a big BBQ and baked-goods auction fundraiser event is held. White said usually 200 racks of ribs are sold as part of the fundraiser. The younger team plays an inner-squad game that day, and the Lockeroom team plays alumni players to start the season.
During June, the Lockeroom team competes against teams from throughout the area, including such places Branson and Charleston, Missouri, Rogersville and Paragould, Arkansas, and Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The American Legion tournament bracket starts in early July and includes district, state, regional and national competitions, culminating in the American Legion World Series.
Boys interested in playing with the American Legion teams in Mountain Home can contact White at 870-421-2006 or LesterWhite@suddenlink.net.